It may not be on a grand scale that inspires mountains of hype or gets Boston sports talk radio buzzing, but New Hampshire native Tim Schaller has been a great success story with the Bruins over the last couple of seasons. There’s really nothing better than a local kid doing well for the Black and Gold, and Schaller went about establishing himself as a fourth line wing at the NHL level capable of providing energy, occasional offense, and consistent effort.
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The 27-year-old Schaller had his best NHL season while suiting up in all 82 games, cracking double-digits with a career-high 12 goals and 22 points and adding a team-high three short-handed goals to provide some value on special teams. Schaller skates pretty well for a big 6-foot-2, 219-pound left wing and occasionally flashed a dangerous wrist shot off the rush that made him the biggest offensive threat on a Bruins fourth line that actually kicked in a combined 28 goals during a very solid regular season.
All of that means Schaller should continue in the NHL for at least the next few seasons after really establishing his value this season, and that he should be in line for a raise during contract talks as they roll out over the next few weeks. These are all extremely good things for Schaller after putting together a couple of strong seasons in Boston, and the hard-nosed kid has been an excellent Bruin on and off the ice with his high-energy style of play and his charitable efforts.
If it sounds like there’s going to be a “but” in there, that’s because there is going to be one. There are many, many scenarios where Schaller and the Bruins will come to an agreement on a contract extension that makes sense for both sides. He plays an honest, hard game while occasionally standing up for his teammates, and it feels like there’s still some room to grow in his offensive game while in the prime of his NHL career.
But it also merits mentioning that Schaller and his young fourth line teammates were outplayed in the second round against a Tampa Bay Lightning team utilizing a fourth line heavy on experience and talent with Chris Kunitz and Ryan Callahan part of their energy line. When it mattered most, Schaller and his fourth line partners weren’t able to make a difference, bring the kind of energy they did for most of the regular season and were part of a team-wide letdown among their forwards once things got past Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak.
It’s not all on the fourth line as the entire forward group wilted during even strength play against a bigger, tougher Lightning defense group, but they’re also in the unfortunate position of being the most replaceable forwards on the roster. That goes doubly so for a guy like Schaller who's going to be unrestricted on July 1 and certainly should get some kind of salary raise from the $775,000 he earned with the Black and Gold last season.
Clearly, Schaller would be well within his rights to shop around for something in the neighborhood of a two-year deal in the $2.5-3 million range, and that might be the kind of salary bump that Boston could afford. The undrafted Providence College standout has enjoyed playing in his home region of New England for the Bruins team he grew up rooting for, but Schaller is smart enough to know that the NHL quickly becomes a business when the salary cap gets involved.
“I would love to stay. Being from just an hour up the road, obviously it’s a dream come true to play here, but at the end of the day, it’s a business, and whatever they want to do, it’s up to them. We’ll find out in a month or so,” said Schaller back on Bruins breakup day last month. “At the end of the day, I’ve got to look out for myself. I think, playing here a long time is obviously a dream. I don’t know if it’s realistic or not. Like I said, we’ll find out, but if an opportunity arises somewhere else, then, like I said, we’ll go from there.”
Complicating matters a little for Schaller is the fact that he underwent hand surgery recently, and he'll be on the shelf for most of the summer leading into training camp. “Tim Schaller did go in for a hand procedure, so that was – it was on the radar to have it followed up, and he did have something fixed there, so he’s got a recovery period, I think, [of a] full return to play of three months. That’s the only newest update,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney at the NHL scouting combine last week.
It sounds like Schaller should be good to go by the start of the regular season, so it won’t scare any teams that are interested him in free agency, including the Bruins. But the Black and Gold might also want to ask themselves if they should go for a player who's a little bigger, a little tougher and has a little more veteran swagger on their fourth line. Ryan Reaves is injecting toughness, intimidation and some clutch scoring into the Stanley Cup Final run for the Vegas Golden Knights right now, and is set to become a free agent in the offseason.
The Bruins would have to be willing to pay a little more than a theoretical Schaller extension given the postseason that the 31-year-old Reaves is enjoying while currently playing on a contract paying him $1.25 million per season. But Reaves would also bring a veteran toughness and mindset that the fourth line was lacking a bit this season with a group of relatively inexperienced kids on that line, and the Bruins could certainly use another tough guy among their forwards. Too many times last season it was up to Adam McQuaid or Kevan Miller to stand up for their teammates and end up spending five minutes in the penalty box for fighting.
A player like Reaves up front would add to the size, strength, and toughness and give the Bruins a player up front who could really protect guys like David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, who both took a lot of big-time shots last season. The Bruins haven’t had that kind of toughness and swagger on their fourth line since Shawn Thornton, and frankly it’s been more than a little bit missing at times over the last few seasons.
Would the toughness factor from a guy like Reaves be enough to offset the 10 goals scored by Schaller last season? That’s something Sweeney and Co. must decide as they map out their offseason strategy, and decide whether their fourth line was good enough to keep intact with both Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari very likely to return next season.
Maybe, just maybe, that young fourth line deserves another opportunity to see if they learned any lessons in the two rounds played in the playoffs this spring.