Boston Bruins 2017 Playoff Outlook

By Patrick Donnelly

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With round one against Ottawa starting Wednesday night, fan speculation is running wild as the Bruins return to the playoffs. Will they go far? Will they lose early? Who knows? Anything can happen, it’s the playoffs.

Here’s five reasons the Bruins will go far:

  1. The Matchup

Superficially, the Bruins don’t have much of a hope against the Sens as they have gone 0-3-1 in the season series. However, the Bruins have more talent up front than the Senators do. Simply put: Patrice Bergeron > Kyle Turris, David Krejci > Derick Brassard, David Pastrnak > Mark Stone/Bobby Ryan, Brad Marchand > Mike Hoffman (albeit not completely healthy), Dominic Moore > Chris Kelly. The Bruins, on paper, have far more talent in the forward core than the Senators do. Tuukka Rask is also arguably better than Craig Anderson, although Anderson was better in the regular season, Rask has proven he can get it done when called upon.

  1. David Krejci

A proven playoff performer, David Krejci has been dominant in the postseason throughout his career. During the Cup run in 2011, Krejci led the league with 23 points in 25 playoff games (12 G, 11 A). During the failed Cup run of 2013, Krejci once again led the league with 26 points in 22 games (9 G, 17 A). The 30 year-old Czech has 77 points overall in 93 total playoff games. Krejci has come through in the clutch time after time and has been a huge part of the Bruins post-season success in recent memory. With Patrice Bergeron hitting his stride, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak dominating, Krejci must continue his hot streak and be a key contributor like he has been in years passed.

  1. Tuukka Rask

Another playoff performer, Rask has the ability to steal a series against some of the best teams and players around the league. After a just “okay” series against Toronto in 2013, Rask went on a tear and essentially carried the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Final, completely shutting down Pittsburgh along the way. Rask has also been very solid against Ottawa in his career, sporting a record of 8-7-4 with a 2.34 GAA and a .921 save percentage. Rask’s career playoff statistics stand at a .930 save percentage and a 2.11 GAA with a record of 28-19. Rask is also a big reason of why the Bruins are even in the playoffs as he was phenomenal in the first half of the season and was unbelievable in the final two weeks (5-0-1 with a 0.75 GAA and a .972 save percentage and of the season in spite of the mid-year slump he dealt with.

  1. Potential Matchups After Ottawa

If the Bruins get passed Ottawa they would face either Montreal or the Rangers. I have said on record numerous times saying I would take Montreal in the playoffs any day of the week. First, the Bruins’ track record against the Rangers the past few years doesn’t bode well for them going down the stretch, but, if Montreal gets passed New York (which it probably will), the matchup favors the Bruins. The Bruins have gone 2-2 against the Habs this year, aside from an embarrassing regulation loss at home in October, the Bruins have largely dominated the Habs. The other loss was a tight contest that the Bruins should have had in all honesty; however, the two wins (one in overtime) saw Boston own the Canadiens for the most part. The B’s lead Montreal in several key statistical categories, including goals per game.

  1. Charlie McAvoy

Yup, the savior is here. McAvoy signed his three-year ELC on Monday morning and joined the big club for practice, wearing #73 and skating alongside John-Michael Liles on the third defensive pairing. McAvoy will make his NHL debut in Game 1 on Wednesday night. The former Terrier needs no introduction as we as fans have been salivating at the chance to see him play in Boston for the better part of a year. With Torey Krug likely out for the series and maybe more, McAvoy could fill the offensive gap that will be left. The right-shot defenseman also has the skating skill and the ability to move the puck up the ice that could be the x-factor for the Bruins in figuring out how to crack Ottawa’s 1-3-1 forecheck and neutral zone in Krug’s absence.

Here’s five reasons the Bruins won’t make noise:

  1. Injuries

The Bruins will be without Krug for the series and will miss Brandon Carlo for at least Game 1. So that means Charlie McAvoy will be thrown straight into the fire and guys like Liles, Adam McQuaid, and Kevan Miller will see far more minutes than they should in all reality. With both Krug and Carlo out, Zdeno Chara will have to log more minutes than he should as well, so fatigue could be a factor as the series pushes forward. Up front, Frank Vatrano is also not 100%, and Matt Beleskey is still fighting what has plagued him all season long.

  1. Lack of Depth Scoring

Outside of Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, David Pastrnak, Drew Stafford, Brad Marchand, Riley Nash, and Dominic Moore, no one has really provided much complementary production as of late. This is nothing new as this issue has plagued the Bruins all year long. The top guys must continue their torrid pace, or the bottom nine must contribute if there is a cold spell in the near future. Jimmy Hayes has been non-existent as well as Matt Beleskey. Frank Vatrano has been inconsistent and Ryan Spooner has played better since Bruce Cassidy came in, but he still hasn’t put up the points he should have. David Backes hasn’t been bad by any means, but he can certainly be far better than he has been.

  1. Tuukka Rask

Although Rask has proven he can come up big in big moments, he has also had his issues in the past. The last series the B’s played in the playoffs, 2014 against Montreal, Rask was not anything special. Another instance would be back in 2010 when the Bruins famously blew a 3-0 lead before it was cool, Rask crumbled just as the rest of the team did. Many fans will also point to some of the bigger regular season games over the past few years, most notably last year against Ottawa in the season finale, and a few weeks ago against the Islanders when Rask was unable to play due to injury or illness.

  1. Inexperience

The Bruins have several players on the roster who have little to no playoff experience, including David Pastrnak, Ryan Spooner, Frank Vatrano, Colin Miller, Kevan Miller (only 11 games), Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Noel Acciari, Joe Morrow, Sean Kuraly, Tim Schaller, Riley Nash, and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson. It should be noted; however, that Morrow, Schaller, Kuraly, and possibly JFK won’t see much ice or even a game in the series, but nonetheless they are still inexperienced in the playoffs.

  1. The 1-3-1

Ah, yes, the bane of the Bruins’ existence this season. Ottawa’s main goal with the 1-3-1 system is to bottle up the neutral zone, so opposing teams have difficulty entering the attacking zone and setting up a consistent forecheck. Cracking the 1-3-1 will be especially tough without Torey Krug, who would be a key cog in trying to solve this frustrating system. Also, the 1-3-1 makes for an incredibly low-scoring and boring on-ice product as it is hard for teams to get into a good flow in the game and it could prove difficult to stay focused during the course of play. The last time the B’s faced the 1-3-1 in the playoffs was in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals against Guy Boucher’s Tampa Bay Lightning and the Bruins were able to solve the system by breaking it down into a series of 2-on-1’s off the rush, so if the Bruins can manage that they could pull it off; however; they are yet to accomplish that this season.

The Bruins will need a lot of things to go right to make a deep run. On paper, things look equally good and bad for the B’s and their hopes as the playoffs loom. Statistics and on-paper looks can tell people a lot of things, but when the playoffs start, that all is thrown away and each team starts fresh. An 8 seed can beat the President’s Trophy winners, any series can go to seven games, nothing is set in stone (unlike the NBA, but I digress). Anything can happen this time of year. Expect the unexpected. The Bruins open Round One on Wednesday night at 7:00 in Ottawa. Get ready; playoff hockey is back in Boston.

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JFK’s First Term

By Patrick Donnelly

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Image: BostonBruins.com

Ask not what the Bruins can do for you. Ask what you can do for the Bruins… Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and the Bruins agreed to a three-year entry-level contract on Sunday afternoon after a huge win against the Chicago Blackhawks. JFK is expected to report to Boston during the week where he will practice prior to Tuesday’s game against Tampa Bay and will be available to make his debut that night, Thursday night against Ottawa, Saturday afternoon against Washington, or maybe even the playoffs. Personally, I cannot wait to see the novel of a last name that is Forsbacka-Karlsson stitched onto a Bruins jersey. Remember how Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s jersey looked when he was with the Red Sox? Yeah, get ready for a new and improved version of that. Great names are just made for Boston.

 

Initial reports pointed towards JFK leaving BU and turning pro no matter what, but last week’s reports indicated the 6’1” 192 lb righty would return to Comm Ave for his junior season. After meeting with the savvy Swede during the day on Friday, Don Sweeney has convinced Forsbacka-Karlsson to forgo the rest of his college career at BU after two impressive seasons under head coach Dave Quinn.

 

The Bruins’ second round pick (45th overall) of the 2015 draft, JFK was exceptional in his time at BU, serving as an alternate captain this past season and totaling 63 points (24 goals and 39 assists) in 78 games on Comm Ave. Drawing comparisons to Patrice Bergeron and Jonathan Toews, JFK is extremely reliable in his own zone, an incredibly smart player, a gifted playmaker, a slick skater, and can can put the puck in the net. The newcomer played top power play and penalty kill minutes, blocked the second most shots on the team (35), and was one of the best in the faceoff circle. The signing means that the former BU Terrier will burn the first year of the ELC as it begins in the current 2016-17 season.

 

It remains to be seen where and when JFK will slot into the lineup, but it is likely a high possibility he makes his NHL debut sometime in these final three games of the regular season or the playoffs. Why? Because you don’t just burn a year of a contract just to not play the kid. The 20 year-old could slide into a bottom-six role either challenging Ryan Spooner at his natural center position or on the wing. If JFK slots in at center, Spooner or Riley Nash would be pushed to the wing while a bottom-six winger (probably not named Dominic Moore, Noel Acciari or Drew Stafford, so I’m looking at you Matt Beleskey/Jimmy Hayes) would become a consistent scratch from the lineup. I will be so bold as to predict a third line combination of Spooner-JFK-Stafford with the fourth line trio of Moore-Nash-Acciari staying the same.

 

Given Bruce Cassidy’s nature to keep certain pairs together (i.e. David Krejci and David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, Ryan Spooner and Frank Vatrano), I wouldn’t doubt the possibility of inserting JFK either on the wing alongside the two Davids, the wing next to Spooner and Stafford (while Vatrano is still hurt), or even on the right of Bergeron and Marchand. That last combination is a bit of stretch, but with JFK’s creativity with the puck and solid two-way abilities, he could prove a more than viable option at wing in the short term future. As far as this goes, it may be best to put JFK on the fourth line to give him the easiest transition to wing as he has only played center during his career.

 

Some may be wondering as to why JFK is with the big club instead of Charlie McAvoy, who has two assists through his first two AHL games. The simplest reason is probably the fact that the Bruins have had next to no production whatsoever from the bottom-six forwards this season, Frank Vatrano is currently on the shelf due to injury, and the defense, which has played fairly well in front during this winning streak, has a clean bill of health. Also, as a forward, the Stockholm native won’t face nearly as big of a learning curve at the NHL level that McAvoy would as a defenseman even if JFK were to have the defensive responsibilities of a center. Since McAvoy has impressed in his first few games with Providence, he may see an ELC and a call to Boston  headed his way soon enough as Sweeney was in the building on Sunday to evaluate his coveted prospect. Cassidy could play it safe and not try JFK in the lineup until the Bruins clinch a playoff spot or begin the postseason as the Bruins are still jockeying for a spot; however, Forsbacka-Karlsson may be just what the Bruins need to push them over the brink and into the playoffs.
The Bruins, riding a five-game win streak, currently sit at second in the Atlantic with 92 points and will close the season with a three game homestand starting with the Lightning, followed by the Senators, then the Capitals. Tuesday’s game against the Lightning will be absolutely huge as a win could all but bury Tampa Bay in the playoff race and potentially secure a playoff spot for the B’s. If the playoffs were to start right now, the Bruins would host Toronto in the first round. A win in regulation against Tampa Bay on Tuesday night will clinch a playoff spot for Boston. Yes, playoff hockey looks to be coming back to Causeway Street. Let’s not celebrate too quickly; there are still three games to be played to close the season.

A New Hope

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Minas Panagiotakis / Getty Images

by Patrick Donnelly

Charlie McAvoy is now officially a member of the Boston Bruins organization as he and the Bruins agreed to an amateur tryout contract (ATO). So, he will now report to Providence of the AHL where he will earn valuable experience at the professional level, yet not burn a year off his entry-level contract (ELC).

McAvoy will join the P-Bruins for practice on Thursday. It is unlikely that he makes his professional debut Friday night in Albany as that will probably serve as another practice day for him, but McAvoy is expected to debut over the weekend whether it be Saturday night in Springfield or at Sunday’s game in Providence. GM Don Sweeney held a press conference at Warrior Ice Arena in Boston where the Bruins held practice on Wednesday morning, and Charlie McAvoy was indeed in the building.

“He felt he was ready and so did we,” Sweeney noted. “First and foremost is to get him playing and get him acclimated,” he continued, “He’ll get practice time tomorrow, probably practice Friday, and likely be ready for the weekend of games.” Sweeney explained to the media that he and McAvoy’s camp are still discussing the possibility of signing an entry-level deal to allow McAvoy to play for the big club. As reported by the Boston Globe, an NHL team executive unrelated to the Bruins stated that he as well as other executives around the league feel that McAvoy will indeed sign a contract and play at least one game. As a result, the Bruins would effectively burn the first year of McAvoy’s three year entry contract, allowing him to enter restricted free agency as of July 1, 2019, as opposed to 2020.

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Carlos Osorio / Associated Press

If McAvoy, 19, played juniors in the CHL (OHL, WHL, QMJHL) rather than playing in the NCAA, the Bruins could sign him to an ELC without having to burn that first year of his deal as the rule for players coming out of the CHL is that they won’t use up a year of their contract if they are under 20 years old. Since McAvoy is coming from the NCAA the rule is in effect as if he is at least 20 years old, so that first year of his contract would be gone even though he is still 19 years old. The same would apply for Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson either way if he decides to sign as he is already 20 years of age. The best route to take would be to let McAvoy play out the season and the playoffs in the AHL instead of wasting a year just to play him for a few games. Sweeney and the rest of the team’s development staff will be able to see how McAvoy fairs in his first taste of pro hockey before making a decision on a contract. While McAvoy would upgrade the defense the minute he steps in the ice, he would only make an impact for a handful of games and maybe a round in the playoffs; it will probably be better for his development if he eases into a new level of play rather than being thrown straight into the fire.

This is the same move the Bruins made with Brandon Carlo after he finished his season in juniors in the WHL last season. Carlo signed an ATO and was able to suit up with Providence, learn the speed, physicality, and lifestyle of the professional ranks, experience he said has proved immensely effective in his transition to the professional level. Sweeney and interim head coach Bruce Cassidy stated they feel McAvoy will have a smooth transition from the college ranks. Both Cassidy and Sweeney were in agreement as they feel McAvoy has all the tools to play in the NHL right now and will have a successful career. It’s just a matter of when the Boston University standout makes his NHL debut.

Sweeney, a big believer in the route Carlo took, said the Bruins’ rookie is the best example of success through this process. Sweeney himself signed an ATO with the Bruins’ AHL affiliate after his career at Harvard, a path that ultimately led him to a solid career at the NHL level. Torey Krug is another success story of this route to the NHL from the NCAA through the AHL. Krug signed an ELC as an undrafted college free agent after three years at Michigan State. The Bruins played him in an NHL game, burning the first year of his deal, and sent him to Providence to earn professional seasoning. The Bruins have a number of players like Danton Heinen, Rob O’Gara, Zane McIntyre, Matt Grzelcyk, and Sean Kuraly in Providence this year who graduated from the NCAA and are playing in their first professional seasons.

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McAvoy (right) and Grzelcyk (left) Image: Craig F. Walker / Boston Globe

As for McAvoy’s former counterpart at BU, JFK has yet to make a decision as to whether or not he will also forgo the rest of his college eligibility. The decision is still being left up to the student, his family, his agent, and his advisors. However, Dave Quinn, the head coach for BU, explained that he feels he will only be losing Clayton Keller (Arizona) and McAvoy to the NHL. So, he expects to not lose other NHL-bound prospects like John McLeod (Tampa Bay), Brandon Hickey (Calgary), Jordan Greenway (Minnesota), and, yes, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson. After initial indications pointed towards JFK turning pro, it looks as if he will play out his junior year. This could prove a very smart move for the budding center as he will continue to gain an education, earn top minutes, and further his development. While it would be great to see the young Swede in the black and gold whether he is down in Providence or with Boston, he would most likely not see the optimal ice time that he otherwise would at BU.

Speaking of former BU counterparts, Grzelcyk, the former BU captain who McAvoy was paired with for his freshman year, is currently playing in Providence in his first professional season after graduating. The potential is there to pair McAvoy and the Charlestown native together to provide McAvoy with a certain comfort level and familiarity as he makes his transition. Fellow B’s prospect Anders Bjork, a star forward for Notre Dame, could very well follow the path of McAvoy as Notre Dame will play in the Frozen Four in two weeks in Chicago, so regardless of the outcome, the Fighting Irish’s season will come to an end that weekend and he would be eligible to sign an ATO or ELC with the organization.

The 14th overall pick in last year’s draft, McAvoy was exceptional during his college career, logging heavy minutes and being the most relied on defenseman on the blueline for BU, and he was able to chip in offensively with 8 goals and 43 assists in 75 games over two years. During the regional games of this year’s NCAA Tournament, McAvoy played outstanding defense was incredibly clutch for the Terriers, scoring the game-winning goal in double overtime of the regional semifinals. At the most recent World Junior Championships, McAvoy was a force to be reckoned with in all areas of the ice, contributing to the offense and locking down the defense. The Long Beach, New York native helped lead Team USA to a gold medal over host Canada, earning player of the game honors.

McAvoy’s former bench boss at BU had high praise for his former cornerstone defender, saying “Charlie is more prepared for the NHL from a physical perspective [than Clayton Keller].” Quinn explained. “I think he’s going to be able to step in and be an everyday NHLer from the get-go.” Keller, the 7th overall pick of the 2016 draft, was signed by the Arizona Coyotes almost immediately following BU’s Saturday night loss to Minnesota-Duluth and subsequently made his NHL debut on Monday. At 6’1” 211 lbs, McAvoy certainly has the size and physical maturity to succeed in the NHL, at this point it is a matter of perfecting his game and learning at the professional level for him to play with Boston.

A Great Day to BU

By Patrick Donnelly

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Charlie McAvoy (Image: the Associated Press)

The NCAA Men’s Division I Tournament was in full swing this weekend, and the Frozen Four is now set for this weekend in Chicago. Red-hot Notre Dame and Bruins’ prospect Anders Bjork will battle with top-seeded Denver while a seemingly unstoppable Harvard squad will face talented Minnesota-Duluth. For those of us that picked a lot of different outcomes and even predicted a Boston University vs. Union final (with BU coming out as the National Champion) it was probably a rough weekend. Yes, BU was my team this year, just like it is every year. It was an especially rough weekend for obviously, BU fans along with Union fans, UMass Lowell fans, and many other #CawlidgeHawkey fans around the nation. After a sensational double overtime win against North Dakota in the regional semifinal, BU fell in overtime to Minnesota-Duluth in the regional finals.

For Bruins fans across the area who have kept up with the prospect pool and the college hockey scene, it was probably a great weekend filled with hope for the future. Anders Bjork is continuing to dominate for Notre Dame and the Fighting Irish. BU’s loss means the Bruins’ best overall prospect, Charlie McAvoy, and the B’s best center prospect, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson (more commonly known as JFK), are now able to sign contracts and turn pro. This can only mean one thing, the rumor mill is now operating at full power.

Initially, reports surrounding McAvoy speculated that the Bruins may have been pressuring the rising star, but, historically, the Bruins have never pressured their college prospects and have always left the decision up to the student and the family. The latest about McAvoy, per TSN’s Bob McKenzie, is:

Charlie McAvoy has exams this week at BU, may affect timing of signing with BOS. Not likely to be any issue but no guarantee it occurs today

– Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) March 26, 2017

Charlie McAvoy and BOS working towards ATO. Expectation is that McAvoy could be in Providence playing by weekend.

– Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) March 28, 2017

This means that the Bruins would be signing McAvoy to an amateur tryout (ATO), meaning McAvoy will be able to report and play with the P-Bruins while the front office and McAvoy’s camp continue to work out the details of his entry-level contract. In the meantime, until he signs a contract, McAvoy would still be able to still get vital professional experience in the AHL. Once the (almost) former BU Terrier officially signs his ELC, he would be eligible to report and play for Boston.

As for JFK, the latest reports indicated that he intends to turn pro regardless of whether or not he reports to the big club in Boston or to the Providence Bruins. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise if the Bruins do see what JFK can do in the NHL if he does sign in the coming days or weeks. The 20 year-old sophomore had a solid freshman year, tallying 10 goals and 20 assists in 39 games. After starting off fairly slow, JFK punched in a dominant performance in the second half of this season, totaling 14 goals and 29 assists for 33 points in 39 games. BU went 9-0-1 this season in games that JFK scored a goal. The 31st ranked player by Central Scouting in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the promising center is an incredibly smart hockey player. The Stockholm, Sweden native is highly regarded for his exceptional skating and gifted playmaking ability. Projected as a future top-6 center, Forsbacka-Karlsson was selected 45th overall in the second round of the 2015 entry draft. JFK has decent size (6’1” 192 lbs) and is often referred to as a reincarnation of Patrice Bergeron, largely due to his responsible play in his defensive zone and exceptionally high hockey IQ. The BU standout will definitely be pushing for a roster spot out of training camp next year, if not the second he signs his entry-level contract.

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson (Image: Richard T. Gagnon / Getty Images)

Boston College v Boston University

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson (Image: Richard T. Gagnon / Getty Images)

And now for the player Bruins fans have been drooling over for the better part of a year, Charlie McAvoy. Last year, McAvoy had an exceptional freshman season as the youngest player in the nation, contributing 3 goals and 22 assists in 37 games. The Long Beach, New York, native followed his freshman year with a standout sophomore year, earning 5 goals and 21 assists. The 20 year-old also turned heads at the most recent World Junior Championships, playing lockdown defense and helping to lead Team USA to a gold medal. McAvoy even scored the 2OT winner in BU’s thrilling regional semifinal win over North Dakota in the NCAA Tournament. At 6’1” 211 lbs, the 14th overall pick from the 2016 entry draft is able to deliver thunderous checks to opponents. A prototypical defenseman for this day in age, McAvoy is an excellent skater with a cannon of a shot who can move the puck up the ice with ease, jump into the play in offensive situations, and play all-world defense in his own zone. A Hockey East First Team All-Star, Charlie McAvoy has all the tools to be a top tier, cornerstone NHL defenseman for a long time. The general consensus among league analysts is still that the Bruins’ crown jewel will be in the NHL very soon.

An important note with these kids whether it be with them debuting next year, the end of this season, or maybe in the upcoming playoffs, is that mistakes are bound to happen. It hasn’t been smooth sailing all year for comparable players like David Pastrnak or Brandon Carlo. Carlo came roaring out of the gate but has seen a lot of ups and downs since January, the same should be foreseen with McAvoy especially where he will often jump up into the play. Pastrnak may not be the fairest comparison for Forsbacka-Karlsson in terms of setting a bar for production, but Pastrnak has also seen immense highs followed by terrible lows, JFK could be prone to seeing some of the same struggles, especially playing center. However, these two players bring youth, speed, and talent to the lineup, and the positives they can bring far outweigh the negatives in spite of the learning curve they will face.

It is worth adding McAvoy and JFK to get them much-needed professional experience either in the NHL or in the AHL as the season winds down. Integrating these two players into the lineup could bring heaps of rewards that would do worlds of good in this late-season push for the playoffs. Charlie McAvoy and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson could soon be the next to go from a talented BU squad that has a number of players (Clayton Keller, Jordan Greenway, and Brandon Hickey to name a few) who are surely headed for the NHL, but it seems JFK and McAvoy will have to hit the books first.

Why the Patriots Don’t Need to Re-sign Player X

By: Joe Spinosa

Right now I am thinking to myself, “who are you, and what have you done to the cynical Spin who is never satisfied with anything?” For years, I have done the thing that few in the New England area have been willing to do, question the roster-building acumen of Bill Belichick. I have said for years, that I am part of the “Suffering Patriots Fan Generation,” and by that I don’t mean the putrid 70s about which my grandfather complains; I am talking about the ten year period in which the New England Patriots were vying for the Lombardi Trophy, but had it slip away at the very end. Over that period of time I saw stars like Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Asante Samuel, Richard Seymour, and many others come and go, which infuriated me. There were many a draft night in which I screamed at the TV because Belichick would turn in his first round pick for a third rounder, and two fourth rounders, but after witnessing the Patriots win two Super Bowls in three years, I am officially putting all my blind trust into Bill Belichick, which I should have done years ago. The reason why this took me so long was because A. The Patriots hadn’t won a Super Bowl in 10 years, and B. The only time the team did win was when it reached into its pockets to sign Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. However, the 2016 season completely swayed me to trust whatever Bill has in mind, because if you told me last year that the Patriots would win the Super Bowl without Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins, and Rob Gronkowski, I would have laughed in your face, but they somehow pulled it off.

So now I am looking at the expansive list of impending free agents the Patriots have which includes Dont’a Hightower, Logan Ryan, Alan Branch, Jabaal Sheard, Duron Harmon, Martellus Bennett, and Chris Long to name a few. Last year I was lamenting that the Patriots last great chance to win a Super Bowl was this season because its defensive core would be decimated, but now I have faith the Patriots can still be favorites to win it all. Heading into the 2017 offseason, the marquee names who Patriots fans are clamoring to retain are Dont’a Hightower and Martellus Bennett. Honestly, I always viewed Bennett as one-year guy. He strikes me as someone who is not completely devoted to football and wants to earn a big payday, of which I don’t begrudge him. Personally, the only tough call for me is Dont’a Hightower who has been a pivotal piece in the Patriots recent championships. While retaining Hightower seems like a must-do to many, Patriots fans must remember fan-favorite Jerod Mayo who had first-round pedigree like Hightower who suffered multiple injuries during his second contract. Belichick will be leery to give another large contract to a player with Hightower’s injury history considering how the end of Mayo’s tenure turned out.

Finally, the last reason why I believe the Patriots can still thrive without overpaying for its free agents is Jimmy Garoppolo. I firmly believe that the Patriots can get a first round pick as well as a third rounder for its backup quarterback. If Bill Belichick were to get the 12th overall pick and some other picks from Cleveland, he could parlay that into two seconds, two thirds, and two fourths. Bill Belichick is known for finding value in the middle of the draft, so the Patriots could conceivably fill four to five holes in the starting defense. To sum everything up, after years of questioning Bill Belichick, I am finally hopping on the “In Bill We Trust” bandwagon.

How Does Drew Stafford Help the Bruins?

By Pat Donnelly

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Image: Steve Szeto, USA Today Sports

 

Another trade deadline has come and gone on Causeway Street. Unlike Danny Ainge and the Celtics down the hall, Don Sweeney and the Bruins actually made an addition. Sorry Danny, had to say it; the opportunity presented itself. The day was filled with rumors and hype linking the Bruins to names like Jaroslav Halak, Radim Vrbata, Dmitri Kulikov, and Thomas Vanek, but Sweeney and the B’s came out with a last-minute deal, acquiring Drew Stafford from the Winnipeg Jets for a conditional 6th round pick. The organization later announced the pick will be from the 2018 entry draft. The conditions of the 6th round pick, per Sweeney, are: if Boston makes the playoffs this year, it becomes a 5th rounder, and it could move as high as a 4th round if the Bruins make it to the second round and if Stafford plays in 50% of the games.

I have to admit, I must commend Don Sweeney; he impressed me today. The front office added depth to the roster that helps the playoff push and didn’t mortgage any of the team’s important assets for the future. The move adds the much-needed depth that may push the team over the top and into the playoffs at little to no cost. Given the spike in prices for depth rentals, the Bruins got Stafford at an extremely valuable, low-risk price, seemingly getting the most bang for their buck. While it would’ve been understandable for the Bruins to remain quiet at the deadline, teams that the Bruins will be competing with for a playoff spot added depth across the board, so dealing for depth will probably prove to be the right decision at the end of the day.

Initially, the team was linked to Radim Vrbata, but it became apparent that Arizona was unwilling to move him. Boston more than likely stayed away from Vrbata as well as other rentals on the market because of the somewhat hefty return that the Red Wings got for Thomas Vanek earlier in the day, which may have influenced the market. It looked as if the Bruins were close to solidifying the goaltending situation behind Tuukka Rask and finalizing a deal with the Islanders for Jaroslav Halak, but it appears as if general manager Garth Snow had no intentions of trading Halak within the conference.

The 31 year-old Stafford is having a down year, having played in 40 games and recording 4 goals and 13 points for the Jets. His drop in numbers is the result of injury, illness, and being relegated to fourth line duties due to strong years from fellow wingers like Nikolaj Ehlers, Patrik Laine, and Blake Wheeler, along with the emergence of some other young forwards.

Do not let the drop in production fool you; there is more than meets the eye with Drew Stafford. The Milwaukee native has a natural ability to shoot the puck and can provide solid two-way play despite his offensive mentality. Throughout his career, Stafford has proven that he can produce at a solid level. He has racked up 50 points once and at least 40 points twice, while achieving upwards of 30 points seven times over the course of his 12 years in the NHL. The 13th overall pick from the 2004 draft, he has reached at least 20 goals four times and has scored 30 goals once. So, what the Bruins are getting is a player who can provide excellent depth production within the middle six or top nine who will be looking to prove that he can still produce and is worthy of decent money when his contract runs out this summer. Stafford’s 6’2” and 202 lb frame adds more size to the roster and he can slot anywhere up and down the lineup. Additionally, since Stafford will look to silence his critics, the Bruins may see a strong body of work from the right winger over the course of the remaining games in the regular season.

Stafford was more than serviceable during his time with the Buffalo Sabres and had 21 goals and 38 points in 78 games for the Jets last year. Something that shouldn’t be lost is that when he was traded from the Sabres to Winnipeg in 2015, he recorded nine goals and 19 points in 26 games to close out the season. Perhaps he will find the same spark following this trade, as a change in scenery may be just what he needs to get himself going.

It seemed unlikely that Stafford would be available to play against the New York Rangers on Thursday night since there were no direct flights from Winnipeg to Boston on Wednesday, so he arrived in the city Thursday afternoon. Also, the University of North Dakota product had to meet with Bruce Cassidy and the coaching staff to go over systems and plays. That decision was left up to Cassidy, and Stafford was not in the lineup against the Rangers, most likely so he could watch from the press box and see what the coaching staff is looking for on the ice. Stafford made his debut in Boston during Saturday night’s matchup against the New Jersey Devils.

It was anticipated that Stafford would slot into the right wing position on the third line alongside Ryan Spooner and Frank Vatrano. This would be a deadly trio as Spooner would be the setup man for Vatrano and Stafford, who would be a veteran presence and potential leader for the two youngsters. The addition of Stafford creates competition for the final two spots on the wing on the fourth line. So, guys like Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes, Riley Nash, and Tim Schaller, would need to play well in a small sample size of practices and games to prove they can stay in the lineup. As a result, this could force these guys to elevate their levels of play and potentially find the consistency in their production that has not been there this season. Also, as previously stated, Stafford brings an added veteran presence to the room and can provide even more guidance for some of his younger counterparts on the wing such as Vatrano, David Pastrnak, and Peter Cehlárik.

As predicted, the trio of Vatrano, Spooner, and Stafford suited up on the third line Saturday night against New Jersey. Stafford was impressive in his debut through 14:07 of ice time, recording seven shots, four hits, and even scored a goal, but it was called back due to goaltender interference. Stafford also assisted on the game-winning goal by Ryan Spooner in the third period, so make that 14 points on the year for the veteran. The newcomer earned First Star of the Game honors. Stafford saw some powerplay time as well, so expect to see more of that and even some time killing penalties for the winger.

After an exciting 2017 trade deadline, the Boston Bruins must look ahead and shift their focus to making the playoffs. The rest of the regular season will be a wild ride as the jam packed Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division will provide plenty of nail biting for fans across the league. It will definitely be a thrilling few weeks in Boston.

Side note: Don Sweeney paid less for Drew Stafford than he did for, wait for it… Zac Rinaldo. Nice. Wonderful. That’s the reason why Boston is without a third rounder in this year’s draft. Keep up the great work, Donnie! Let’s just not lose sight of the fact that the Atlanta Falcons blew a 25 point lead in the Super Bowl.

Boston Bruins 2017 Trade Deadline Preview

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Image: Steve Babineau, Boston Bruins

By Pat Donnelly

Buy? Sell? Stand pat? What will Don Sweeney and Cam Neely do come Wednesday afternoon? As I began this article, nobody in the Eastern Conference who is jockeying with the Bruins for a playoff spot had made any moves stating loud and clear that they are going for the playoffs. Revisiting this a little while later, Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto have all made deals that show they are committed to making the playoffs. Unless Montreal keeps struggling, the Bruins won’t really have to battle them for a playoff spot. However, Ottawa and especially Toronto are the two biggest teams in the way of the Bruins and their playoff hopes.

Montreal bolstered their defense by adding Jordie Benn, while Toronto added significant depth to their forward corps by with Brian Boyle. Not long after, Ottawa added Alex Burrows to their forward lines. All three moves were at a reasonable price and may be just the thing that forces Don Sweeney’s hand in making a deal by the time Wednesday rolls around.

*Disclaimer: this was written before Kevin Shattenkirk was dealt to Washington, but that analysis is still relevant to the Bruins given the team’s current situation.*

Initially, this article was going to preach how Sweeney and Neely should largely stay away from the phones unless something absolutely irresistible comes across the desk. It would still be in the best interest of management to shy away from the big names like Kevin Shattenkirk, Gabriel Landeskog, or Matt Duchene because of the steep costs these players would likely command. Contrarily, with teams within the division adding significant depth, it would not be unreasonable for Sweeney to go out and acquire relatively cheap depth for the forward core, or perhaps for the defense if the right player for the right price is named.

Let’s explore the most plausible options for the Bruins as things currently stand:

Thomas Vanek, LW, Detroit Red Wings

Despite missing a chunk of games with injury and having a down season last year, Vanek has put in a very good quality of work this year in Detroit. Vanek, a proven goal scorer, has 15 goals and 38 points through 47 games this year. The 33 year-old Austrian has been a Bruins killer throughout his career, perhaps he could now become a killer B, pun intended. In all seriousness, Vanek has a relatively low cap hit of $2.6 million, which expires after this season, and he shouldn’t cost all that much to acquire. There is the danger of sending assets within the division, but it may prove a worthwhile risk depending on what is given up.

Radim Vrbata, RW, Arizona Coyotes

Vrbata’s production has certainly declined in recent years as age seems to have become a contributing factor to his slow in production. A two-time 30-goal scorer, Vrbata becomes a free agent on July 1 and could end up being one of the cheaper “rentals” on the market. The 35 year-old Czech is having a strong season similar to that of Vanek as he has 15 goals and 46 points through 61 games. It would make sense for the B’s to kick the tires on the winger as Arizona is already in town for Tuesday’s game, travel logistics, would become much easier, and Don Sweeney can meet with John Chayka in person to discuss details. If Vrbata is scratched Tuesday night, I’d say there is a healthy chance he’s on the move, maybe just a short walk down the hall. With an extremely manageable cap hit of $1 million, Vrbata may just be the depth sniper the Bruins could use to push them over the brink and into the playoffs.

Mike Green, D, Detroit Red Wings

Detroit is in a tough spot. With their 25 year streak of making the playoffs about to end, management should look to sell off some older parts to free up cap space and acquire assets for the near future. One of these older players could be Mike Green. Green, 31, will see his deal run out after next season and is making $6 million this year and next. Green is a bonafide top four, offensive defenseman who has put up huge numbers in the past. However, recent injuries and stretches of inconsistency may have hurt his overall surface value. However, he has still led Detroit’s blue line in points through this year and last year. He is a huge threat on the power play and can provide solid defense when needed. Boston would be acquiring a player that can help them this year and next year, and could be a strong guide in the locker room for young players like Charlie McAvoy or Brandon Carlo. Boston could add names like Matt Beleskey, John-Michael Liles, or Jimmy Hayes to send salary the other way and meet Detroit’s roster needs to keep the Wings competitive if they commit to a retool or a rebuild. Maybe Detroit would be willing to eat some of his salary depending on the nature of the deal. The key for Boston is Green’s contract situation, if he is a Bruin next season, he will be in a contract year trying to prove he is still worthy of a big payday in free agency. So, that could mean a strong season from him as he tries to silence his doubters. Trading for Green would probably cost a middle or depth roster player (maybe from the backend to free a roster spot for Green and the prospects coming up next year), a decent pick and more than likely a decent prospect. So, if Sweeney decides to explore this option, he must consider every possible factor to make sure Boston comes out on the right side of the deal. There should always be caution when sending assets within the division, but acquiring Mike Green instantly improves the roster and may help in the near future for the right cost.

Here’s a look at some options that the Bruins could certainly acquire, but should probably stay away from:

Patrick Sharp, LW, Dallas Stars

Dallas is pretty much out of playoff contention at this point, so it seems about right that they sell off parts for more assets for the future. Sharp’s production has certainly declined over the past two seasons, although injuries have been contributing factors as well. The 35 year-old has plenty of playoff experience, is great in the locker room, and knows how to win, exemplified through the three Stanley Cups under his belt with Chicago. The drawback with the veteran is his production: seven goals and 15 points in 36 games, as well as his salary: $5.5 million. At this point, given all things to consider, Sharp does not seem like a viable option for the Bruins given his cap hit and overall drop in production.

Cam Fowler, D, Anaheim Ducks

With one year left on Cam Fowler’s deal, the Ducks are in an interesting situation. The front office in Anaheim must figure out how to maintain high quality defense as they try to manage the cap, look to the future, and all the while compete for a top seed in the Pacific Division. The Ducks have already had trouble managing the salary cap and re-signing young stars like Hampus Lindholm and Rickard Rakell due to the amount of money these players are commanding along with the rest of the roster. With the likes of other young defensemen like the aforementioned Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Simon Despres, and Shea Theodore rising through the ranks, Fowler may be the odd man out in the future because of his contract situation. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out over the next year or so, but depending on the cost Anaheim asks for the 25 year-old Fowler (if they even decide to move him), the Bruins would be wise to stay back either way.

Other names that have been floating around are Shane Doan (RW, Arizona Coyotes) and Jarome Iginla (RW, Colorado Avalanche). Both of these players have no-movement clauses and somewhat pricey contracts, in the case of Jarome Iginla. If the Bruins were legitimate contenders, Iginla and Doan would be interesting options because of the leadership, experience, and depth production they offer; however, Boston is not in the situation where either player would wave their no-movement clauses to come here as they are looking to finish their careers in top, and it would not be wise to sacrifice assets for much older players in the Bruins’ case.

A look at the big-name rentals the Bruins would be better suited to stay away from:

Kevin Shattenkirk, D, St. Louis Blues (now part of the Washington Capitals)

St. Louis is in an awkward situation. Recent struggles have put their playoff hopes very much in jeopardy and they probably will not be able to re-sign the star defenseman this summer. Do they hold on to him and make a push for the playoffs, or do they try and milk as many assets as they can out of his trade value? The Boston University product is a dangerous threat on the power play, puts up plenty of points, and can be relied on in key defensive situations. The issue with trading for him if you’re Don Sweeney is the price such a trade will command and the danger of Shattenkirk walking this summer if a contract extension cannot be reached. Also, with Charlie McAvoy, or even players like Matt Grzelcyk, Rob O’Gara, Jakub Zboril, or Jérémy Lauzon pushing for roster spots either next year or in two years, it may compromise the future of the defense and the opportunity for these talented young players. Unless Sweeney finds the right price that takes care of the present along with the future, the right thing to do would be to stay away from Shattenkirk. The 28 year-old has since been traded to Washington; however, this analysis is still relevant to the current state of the B’s.

Some other names the Bruins have been linked to are stars like Gabriel Landeskog (LW, Colorado Avalanche) and Matt Duchene (C, LW, Colorado Avalanche). With Joe Sakic setting absurdly high prices for either of these players, starting with Charlie McAvoy or Brandon Carlo, it would be in the best interest of this team to not answer the phone if Sakic comes calling over the course of the next few days. I’ll even go as far to say that sacrificing Carlo or McAvoy for either of these players should get Sweeney and Neely fired on the spot, right after they hang up the phone. Adding these two stars would further hurt the Bruins cap situation, would cost important assets, compromise the future, and put young players out of the lineup.

What to do with Ryan Spooner, Matt Beleskey, Kevan Miller, Colin Miller, and Jimmy Hayes?

It would be in the best interest of both parties for the Bruins to move Spooner either now or at the draft. Spooner’s contract is expiring, he still has a ton of potential, and he’ll probably command a significant pay raise from the entry-level contract he is currently on.With David Pastrnak requiring a hefty pay increase this summer, the Bruins may find trouble if they try to re-sign Spooner in addition to paying Pastrnak. The recent trades of the past few days suggest that a Spooner trade could potentially fetch a high price from the team interested in him. Trading Spooner to a young or bubble team would also provide him with the opportunity he has not had in Boston. Unless the Bruins see the right offer come their way in the next day or so, this move would be best if made at the draft this summer. Hayes and Beleskey have been mentioned for obvious reasons as their contract situations and lack of production have become unbearable at this point. Colin Miller is an interesting case as he has really come into his own this year, but his trade value is probably at its highest. Also, he may not get the right opportunity in Boston as the organization is loaded with prospects on the backend. A case to trade Kevan Miller is makeable because of his salary and the likelihood that he’ll get picked up through expansion this summer. It would be wise to try to acquire pieces for him instead of losing him for nothing.

It should be noted that exploring a deal for a backup goalie is not out of the realm of possibility as the spot behind Tuukka Rask has been a revolving door of backups who have struggled mightily this season. Jaroslav Halak (G, New York Islanders) has come up in talks recently and it would make sense for the Bruins to consider him. He has struggled this year but is a proven goaltender who could be a solid backup to Rask. If  Sweeney goes after Halak, the Islanders would have to retain some salary, and Sweeney would have to shed salary and include Anton Khudobin in the deal to open a roster spot.

Trading for Thomas Vanek or Radim Vrbata seems like the viable choice for Don Sweeney and company as close rivals have upped the ante in the playoff race. A deal for Mike Green would certainly be great, but that may be setting expectations much too high. Vrbata seems like the most reasonable option at this point. Do not be surprised if the Bruins stand still. Management certainly has a lot to think about for the short term along with the long term as the 3 p.m. deadline on Wednesday looms. Staying quiet and not making any moves seems like the safest option, but adding depth up front or improving the defense (for the right price, of course) should not be out of the question for the odd couple in Sweeney and Neely. March 1st will definitely be an interesting day around the league, especially on Causeway Street.