Bruins

Young, promising Kyle Keyser prepares to enter Bruins goaltending picture

Young, promising Kyle Keyser prepares to enter Bruins goaltending picture

He might not have quite the cachet of Jack Studnicka or Jakub Lauko as an uber-prospect for the Bruins. Just by virtue of not being drafted or playing forward, young goaltender Kyle Keyser is more of a blip on the radar screen as another young B’s player headed into a key developmental year with the organization.

Keyser, like Studnicka and Lauko, didn’t take part in the on-ice portion of this summer’s development camp and only played in a single regular-season game for the Providence Bruins in the AHL at the end of this past season. That came after Keyser, 20, posted a .915 save percentage and 2.75 goals-against average in his final regular season with the Oshawa Generals and preceded a run for the young goalie as part of the Black Aces in this spring’s Stanley Cup playoff run.

“The playoff time in Oshawa was something truly awesome to experience,” said Keyser, who posted a sterling .925 save percentage in Oshawa’s 15-game run through the Memorial Cup playoffs. “Being with those guys in my first long playoff run and the camaraderie of being in a group playing for one another was something special. It was great to be around.”

It’s also something for Keyser to build on as he enters the first season of a three-year, entry-level contract signed with Boston back in Oct. 2017 after the 6-foot-2, 180-pound goalie from Coral Springs, Fla., took part in B’s development camp as a free-agent prospect.

Now is an exceedingly interesting time for the young puck-stopper as the Bruins boasted one of the best goaltending tandems in the NHL last season in Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. Certainly, it was educational for Keyser to get an up-front seat to the way Rask performed while helping bring the B’s all the way to Game 7 of the Cup Final with a brilliant couple of months in the postseason.

It’s very likely that will be the same NHL tandem for Boston again this year with Rask and Halak signed for next year and Rask signed for another season at $7 million afterward.

“Being here at the end of the season and being around these guys at playoff time was incredible,” said Keyser, who has essentially been a Black Ace practice goalie with the Bruins in each of their last two postseasons. “Being at the Garden for every game and seeing the atmosphere gives you chills whether it was the first game or the last one.

“Watching Tuukka every single game, everybody saw the performance he put up in the playoffs. Just learning from every single minute with him and watching him as closely as possible, it was an incredible experience. It was probably one of the best goaltending performances that I’ve ever seen in my lifetime, and maybe of all time. To witness that in person was something special. You don’t take that for granted.”

One thing not under debate: The role of “goalie of the future” in the Bruins organization is completely up for grabs headed into this season and Keyser will be in that mix.

Certainly, Keyser and Daniel Vladar, 21, will both be competing to be that guy in the AHL next season with free-agent signee Max Lagace around as the veteran mentor. The 6-5 Vladar, coming off a disappointing year where he posted an .898 save percentage in his first full AHL season, is entering the final year of his entry-level contract with the Black and Gold.

There’s also Jeremy Swayman further down the organizational depth chart while still in development as the No. 1 goalie for the University of Maine, but he’s years away from potentially pushing into the NHL picture.

All three will get a chance to show they might be worthy of being Rask’s backup in 2020-21 when Halak has presumably moved on, and the B’s are getting much closer to deciding on Tuukka’s future in Boston.

It’s going to be Keyser’s time to step up and push into the Bruins' organizational picture and show that there’s a potential young option for Boston should injuries, or something else, create an NHL goaltending opening. It’s doubtful there would be any kind of scenario, other than injury, that would create a goalie need in Boston this season, but one can’t rule anything out in the long-term future given Boston’s tight salary-cap situation.

It’s the exact kind of opportunity that Keyser is hoping to run with as he enters his first full pro season with the B’s organization.

“To get with the strength and conditioning guys and with the nutrition [staff] is great any time of year, but even more now in the summer when you’re trying to get stronger,” said Keyser. “You’re trying to get stronger and put yourself in the best position to succeed next year. I want to make sure I’m doing everything to make sure I’m fresh and ready to go when next season starts.”

It will be a gigantic, first impression-type season for Keyser next year. Getting through development camp last month was one of the hurdles in getting ready to seize the moment, but there’s a long way to go for Keyser and the rest of Boston’s young goalie crew.

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Zdeno Chara reacts to Tom Brady leaving Patriots: 'I'll always be his fan'

Zdeno Chara reacts to Tom Brady leaving Patriots: 'I'll always be his fan'

Zdeno Chara and Tom Brady both have been Boston sports icons for well over a decade. During that time, they've expressed admiration for each other's games and maintained a close relationship.

So when Brady left the New England Patriots to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last month, Chara was one of many saddened and surprised by the news. Still, the veteran Boston Bruins defenseman remains supportive of Brady's endeavors.

Chara shared his reaction to Brady's departure Thursday on WEEI's "Dale & Keefe."

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"I have to be honest, it was obviously a little mixed feelings," Chara said. "I was sad to see Tom leave. He meant so much to the Boston community, to the fans, to probably every little boy growing up.

"All these inspiring stories, and just a great example on and off the field. So yeah, it was kind of sad to see him leave Boston, but at the same time I’m very supportive of his decision and what he’s trying to go for, and I will always be his fan and his friend and wish him nothing but the best."

After Brady made his Bucs signing official, Chara bid farewell to the six-time Super Bowl champion with a heartfelt Instagram post.

Now that Brady is out of town, Chara is by far Boston's oldest athlete at 43 years old. Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia is the second-oldest at 36. Like Brady, Chara doesn't plan to hang 'em up any time soon and doesn't have an age in mind for when he'll retire.

"I don’t like to put the numbers like that," Chara said. "You never know what’s going to happen. I want to play as long as I can and as long as I have fun and I love the game and I’m very passionate about the game, but we’ll see what’s going to happen."

Chara signed a one-year, $2 million extension with the Bruins last year.

Hindsight 2020: Bruins should've gone with David Backes in Game 7 vs. Blues

Hindsight 2020: Bruins should've gone with David Backes in Game 7 vs. Blues

Let’s preface this by saying that Bruce Cassidy hasn’t made many easy “second guess” moves in three-plus seasons of constant success.

The Bruins have made the playoffs in each of the four years that Cassidy has been the bench boss in Boston and players like Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak have posted the best numbers of their NHL careers. The 161-66-34 record that Cassidy has compiled in Boston really speaks for itself along with the head coach pushing the Bruins to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final last year.

When it comes to questioning his moves, there aren’t many to choose from.

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But the one coaching move that this humble hockey writer never agreed with was the healthy scratch of veteran power forward David Backes for the final three games of the Cup Final against the St. Louis Blues.

Well, not so much the final three games. It’s more like the final game.

Scratching Backes for the final three games against his old Blues team effectively spelled the end of his career in Black and Gold. It preceded this season when it was truly clear that his NHL effectiveness was at a conclusion and the Bruins needed to move out a first round pick just to get Anaheim to pick up his contract.

Obviously, Game 5 wasn’t the big moment to quibble with and in Game 6 things worked out with Karson Kuhlman scoring a goal while playing in Backes’ place in a 5-1 win over the Blues in the penultimate game of the series.

Cassidy went with the safe move of sticking with Kuhlman after the Game 6 road win over St. Louis with Boston feeling like it had the momentum going into a winner-take-all Game 7 on the TD Garden ice. It was tough to argue staying with the same lineup that won just a couple of days prior in St. Louis, but the Bruins clearly needed something a little different than what we saw play out in Game 7.

Backes could have been that something different that the Bruins were looking for when looking at the complete picture.

So what’s the argument to go with an aging Backes who had clearly slowed down last season at 34 years old?

Backes showed throughout last spring’s playoff run that he was very effective entering back into the lineup after giving his skating legs a few days’ rest. He showed that in the first round series against Toronto when his entry into the lineup was an early turning point with his physicality, experience and attitude.

Backes did it again in the second round vs. the Blue Jackets after several healthy scratches when he posted points in three straight wins over Columbus. Backes went scoreless in the first four games of the Cup Final against the Blues and finished with less than 10 minutes of ice time in two of those games, but he hadn’t played in eight days when the B’s and Blues met for Game 7 in Boston.

Once again, Backes could have injected physicality and attitude in a hockey game where force of will was going to be a difference-maker. Certainly, there’s a very easy argument to make that a former All-Star, Olympian and captain of the Blues could have done something in a Game 7 to make a difference as opposed to a player in Kuhlman who had just 11 games of NHL experience headed into last spring’s playoffs.

Instead, Kuhlman was an absolute non-factor in Game 7 in a game where the Bruins collapsed over the final 40 minutes against a St. Louis team that had worn them down physically over the course of the seven-game series.

We’ll never know, of course, if Backes would have made a difference between winning and losing. Brad Marchand made an awful call hopping off the ice at the end of the first period to set up an Alex Pietrangelo goal. Tuukka Rask was outplayed by Jordan Binnington, who stood on his head in the first period against the Bruins when it really mattered most. For the balance of the entire series, Patrice Bergeron was outplayed by fellow two-way center Ryan O’Reilly, and that was the case again in the decisive Game 7.

All of these things might have been too much to overcome when it was all said and done based on the way the entire series played out. But Backes was also an important, confident and vocal leader in the Bruins dressing room who walked the walk and talked the talk, and players like that can rise to the occasion in Game 7-type scenarios when given the opportunity.

Instead, Backes never even got a chance in Game 7 to put the final touches on his legacy, and the Bruins lost Game 7 on home ice with a whimper that won’t soon be forgotten by B’s fans.

That’s the kind of coaching decision that will be second-guessed until the end of time without ever knowing if it might have made a bit of difference.