David Backes

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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Bruins reveal long list of injuries at end of season

Bruins reveal long list of injuries at end of season

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins suffered through more than their share of injuries in the regular season and so it was during the Stanley Cup playoffs as well. 

At the top of the list were B’s knocked out in playoffs. Torey Krug is expected to be in a boot for two months after his left ankle was fractured in Game 4 of the Tampa Bay series and David Backes suffering a concussion after getting hit in the jaw by a J.T. Miller body check in their Game 5 elimination loss in Tampa.

Krug clearly would have been out for the rest of the playoffs with his injury had the Bruins somehow advanced and Backes guessed that he would have missed the rest of the Tampa Bay series. Backes, 33, said he was still experiencing some concussion symptoms as he spoke to the media on Wednesday morning he and treats them cautiously now that he’s had a handful of concussions in the NHL.

“I have good moments and other moments not so great, but I’ve got some time to recover now, unfortunately,” said Backes. “It’s never great to have a brain injury, but it is part of what we do. With time to recover and not be forced into a game in short order or not have a repetitive injury, it’s the best case for me to get back to full health and get ready for next season.”

There were also a number of Bruins players fighting through nagging injuries in the postseason: Patrice Bergeron had a groin injury crop up late in the season that had bothered him earlier as well and might have to consider surgery this offseason it if doesn’t completely improve with some rest.

“It’s a little groin issue that will go away on its own hopefully. It was in one of the last practices in camp that I pulled my groin, and then it was an issue after that for a long time. It went away [for a while] and then it came back in the playoffs. Hopefully, it’s rest and rehab, but it might be surgery if it doesn’t go away,” said Bergeron. “We all know there’s a lot of things going on [with injuries] and it’s a long year, and playoffs are the same thing with a lot of guys battling through [injuries]. It’s the same for any other team whether it’s us, or the four teams remaining in the next round. You’ve got to battle through it, and that’s just the way it is. It isn’t easy, but it tells you a lot about the character that’s in this locker room.”

Bergeron also said that he sat out Game 4 in the first round as a precaution with concussion-like symptoms, but said in hindsight he believed the symptoms were associated with a bad head cold he was battling at the time as well.

Rookie Jake DeBrusk was playing through a sprained AC joint in his shoulder for the playoff run while admitting it was pretty painful at times, Riley Nash has been battling through a hip injury since February that may or may not need surgery along with a concussion suffered ahead of the playoffs after he took a puck to the side of the head.

“I didn’t feel like I quite got my legs under me before I started [playing] in the playoffs. It’s another learning experience for me,” said Nash of coming back from the concussion. “I’m getting [my hip] looked at because I don’t know what’s going on down there. It’s been happening for about three months or so.”

Zdeno Chara is mulling surgery for an upper-body injury thought to be a shoulder injury suffered in March in the comeback against Carolina and something he played with through the entire postseason.  

“We all play through different things. I’m not going to make excuses. We all play through some bumps and bruises,” said Chara. “I want to take the time to heal and get ready for next season. We are still in the period of trying to avoid [a surgery] and definitely taking a little time [to assess things]. It’s an upper body [injury].”

Noel Acciari was playing with a sports hernia for most of the season and said that he will definitely be headed for offseason surgery after it compromised his skating explosiveness. Brad Marchand was playing through a groin injury in the final four games against the Lightning in the second round, but expected it to heal with plenty of rest for the remainder of the offseason.

Clearly, with the number of banged up Bruins finally allowed to come clean as they cleaned out their dressing room lockers on breakup day, the B’s would have been hard-pressed to push on for another month of playoff hockey. It again makes you appreciate the toughness level of hockey players in general and how they take it to a whole other level at Stanley Cup playoff time.  

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Starting strong, scoring first top B's Game 5 to-do list

Starting strong, scoring first top B's Game 5 to-do list

TAMPA – If there’s one area where the Bruins can be demonstrably better in their series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, it’s in the starts to their playoff games. 

Certainly, it looks and feels like the Lightning have been the better hockey team for the balance of the series anyway, and a good start really doesn’t ensure the Black and Gold of anything.

But after allowing the first goals in each the past three games that have turned into playoff losses to fall down 3-1 in the best-of-seven series, changing things up and actually scoring first might be worth investigating. The Bruins are 4-1 when they score first in this postseason and. amazingly. the Bolts have only had two of their eight postseason games thus far where they allowed their opponent to score first. 

One of those games was Game 1, their only victory of this second-round series, when Rick Nash scored for the Bruins on the power play.

“To get everyone involved and focused while continuing to go toward the pillars of our success is what we need for a fast start,” said Bruins winger David Backes, who was dropped to a fourth line role in the Game 4 loss to Tampa. “The rest of the game we’ll take it minute-by-minute and shift-by-shift after that, but certainly the first 10 minutes [of Game 5] are going to be huge, and it hasn’t been ideal by any means over the last few games. We’ve been spotting their team one or two goals in the first 10 minutes, and then we’re climbing uphill after that.”

The actual start at the drop of the puck hasn’t always been the issue for the Bruins in the three losses, but it’s been much more about the opening half of the first period. Bruce Cassidy has preached starting on time to his players, but even he admitted it’s probably more about simple execution than his players not being ready to go at this time of year with everything on the line.

“You take the positive and work on the stuff that we need to get better,” said Cassidy, on his approach to Game 5 after a gut-wrenching and soul-crushing overtime Game 4 loss at TD Garden. “That’s our starts. We need to be on time tomorrow. We’ve talked about it for, what, three games in a row now? That’s something we definitely to be ready at the puck drop. And I don’t even know if it’s being ready. I think our guys are ready. It’s more just about being able to execute.”

It sounds as if the Bruins are intent on playing mistake-free hockey while exerting their on today's game in Tampa just like they did in long spurts of Game 5 in Boston and perhaps they will find the Lightning easing up with a commanding lead in the series. 

Let’s also not forget the Black and Gold had a 3-2 lead in the third period of Game 4 before another controversial non-call did them in prior to their overtime loss.

So, just to be sure the Bruins should play perfect hockey in the first 10 minutes and then go ahead and try and play the perfect game against a quality opponent to stay alive in the postseason. It’s easier said than done, but that’s the roadmap laid out for the Bruins as they get ready for a do-or-die Game 5.

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