Boston Bruins games (of significance) will be back in less than two weeks. Wild stuff.
Training camp has been underway for over a week now, so here are 24 musings (because there are 24 teams returning to play, get it?) about the Bruins.
1. The Bruins have every right to gripe about how the return-to-play format adversely impacted them. Whereas most other teams’ regular-season performance propelled them into the playoff picture, everything the Bruins did during the regular season effectively was negated by the format.
That said, I’d be stunned if there was consistent public bemoaning of the situation for the Bruins — there hasn’t been so far. For one, it’s not really their style. Secondly, and more importantly, if they’re going to win the Stanley Cup and stake their claim as the best team in the league, it shouldn’t matter who they play or when. A team saying it thinks it could beat anyone else would ring hollow if it also is routinely lamenting the format.
2. It wouldn’t shock me in the least bit if head coach Bruce Cassidy puts Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie in roles we wouldn’t necessarily expect. He’s had months to pour over film of both trade-deadline acquisitions from their time in Boston and with the Anaheim Ducks.
Cassidy isn’t afraid to get creative, and those two could prompt him to fire the blender on full blast.
3. On the topic, I’d like to see Kase get a shot on the first line. In that situation, Kase would have the opportunity to play alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, while David Pastrnak joins Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci.
Krejci and DeBrusk have gone through some slow stretches this season, and while putting Pastrnak with his countryman often has been better in theory than practice, he might be able to provide that line with the jolt it needs.
4. Early on in camp, there’s hasn’t been a strong impression that the Bruins are going to live and die with the results of the round-robin. Not to say they won’t take it seriously, but — and this is more reading between the lines than anything — it sounds like it’s being used as an opportunity to tinker with lineup ideas and see what they’re working with. If the B’s can establish some solid line and defensive combinations while keeping everyone healthy during those three games, any wins will just be gravy.
5. I do wonder, though, if Cassidy will entertain resting players in the round-robin tournament. He said in a radio interview weeks ago that he wouldn’t rule it out, but that was before everything had really come into focus with the return to play format.
It seems like a Catch 22: The players who would need the rest would be veterans like Bergeron and Zdeno Chara. Conversely, for months we’ve also thought those older players might take a little bit longer to get going than the younger players. So, benching them for what should be high-intensity games doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
6. While there is understandable concern if Bergeron and Chara can ramp up quick enough, here’s a spin: Maybe, seeing as Bergeron, in particular, has had to crawl to the finish in recent seasons, getting him totally healthy and rested entering the playoffs for a change actually outweighs whatever rust may be there.
7. I would be stunned if Jeremy Lauzon makes it through the remainder of this season without being the odd man out of the lineup at least once.
That’s not really an indictment of him, rather the reality that young players often hit bumps after long pauses and the Bruins are loaded with defensive depth.
8. With that in mind, I think, independent of Lauzon’s play, we’ll see more John Moore than Connor Clifton.
Looking at ice time and usage alone, Cassidy seems to value the stability of Moore versus the higher-risk, higher-reward play of Clifton. If there’s ever a situation where stability should have enhanced value, it would be when you’re hopping into high-intensity games after a roughly four-and-a-half month hiatus.
9. Jaroslav Halak didn’t play at all in the playoffs last season and I do wonder how much we’ll see of him in Toronto. Of course, part of the reason he rode the bench all playoffs last season was because Tuukka Rask was playing so well that he didn’t need to be replaced, even during a game. Nary an egg was laid.
But this is a whole different animal, and Cassidy may decide he wants to give Halak some run even if Rask is playing well enough. Rask has played his best when he’s well-rested, and he figures to be plenty recuperated when the season restarts, but this is such a unique situation.
10. A prediction: After not seeing Halak at all in postseason action in 2019, he’ll appear in at least one game this postseason. Rask has to stumble eventually, right?
11. Conversely, Rask, as alluded to above, always has talked about how being well-rested helps him, so maybe the layoff does boost him for the playoffs. However, whenever he has hit cold stretches it generally is early on in a season (remember November 2017?), so in that regard, could it take him a little longer to shake off the rust?
12. A player to watch early on: Par Lindholm.
He was really hitting his stride by the time the season paused, and it allowed Sean Kuraly to get a shot on the third line left wing. If Lindholm continues to play well in the fourth line center role, it will give Cassidy much more lineup flexibility.
13. Once upon a time, it felt like Joakim Nordstrom would be the odd man out if the Bruins needed to add a little bit more edge to the lineup.
However, he showed a willingness to play with a bit more bite leading up to the pause, namely his spirited scrap with Yanni Gourde. As such, maybe he won’t be a player on the bubble if Cassidy decides he needs to build a lineup with added bulk.
14. That said, regardless of who is or is not at risk of being bumped out of the lineup, don’t be surprised if Anton Blidh earns an extended look in the round-robin tournament as the Bruins face a series of teams that play heavy games.
15. If we’re predicting which Providence call-up actually skates in a game for the Bruins, my guess would be Paul Carey. That’s just a hunch and based on pretty much nothing, but I plan on grandstanding if this prediction is right.
16. From a contract standpoint, DeBrusk needs a good postseason.
He’s a pending restricted free agent, and out of the clouds, there has been weird speculation that he could get Travis Konecny money (six years at a $5.5 million AAV) or that the Bruins might have to trade him.
That is, in a word, hogwash.
Listen, DeBrusk is a fine player, but he hasn’t played nearly consistent enough to earn the type of money that some people think he will. Purely from a financial standpoint, the cap staying flat is going to cause players to take shorter-term deals and probably make less money in the immediate future.
Like it or not, DeBrusk and Danton Heinen really aren’t that different of players, at least when it comes to making a case at the negotiating table. They’re solid middle six forwards who have hit the 40-point threshold before and play solid defense.
The guess here is that he garners something a little better than Heinen did last offseason (two years at a $2.8 million AAV). His postseason performance certainly will impact his stock within reason, but I’ll be floored if he’s making more than $4 million next season and/or playing somewhere other than Boston.
17. By all accounts, Anders Bjork has looked fantastic in training camp. If he’s able to become a difference-maker and secure a spot in the Bruins’ middle six, the forward depth for the Bruins will be next level.
18. The only “problem” with Bjork being in the lineup is that someone between Bjork, Ritchie and DeBrusk will be playing on their off side. Bjork seems willing to play on the right, but it’s abundantly clear how much more comfortable he is on the left. DeBrusk doesn’t appear to like skating on the right either, and it seems the preference is to keep Ritchie on the left, as well.
Since he’s the guy on the bubble of making the lineup, Bjork probably is going to be the one who has to just play on the right.
19. Steven Kampfer’s decision to opt out seems like a no-brainer, and it sounds like he has the full support of his teammates. Regardless of what role he played on the Bruins, Kampfer starting back up is absolutely not worth it with his wife and young child both having a congenital heart condition.
20. A lot of people might watch this postseason believing it’ll be Torey Krug’s last with Boston. That’s fair, but I don’t think it will be.
Maybe this is naive of me, but I think when push comes to shove, Krug’s best option is going to be staying in Boston. It’s hard to imagine the defenseman testing the market and earning such a heftier offer from another team that he decides to bolt, in large part because of the salary cap freezing for, at the very least, next season. Teams probably aren’t going to stretch themselves right now the way they might have a year ago given the uncertain financial future.
I imagine he’ll go and test the market, see what’s out there and then decide that staying with the Bruins is the best move for him.
21. The next few weeks/months could provide Ritchie with a prime opportunity to work his way into Bruins’ fans good graces. Since he got off to a slow start after arriving in Boston at the trade deadline, he really hasn’t made too much of an impact just yet.
But in limited playoff experience in his career he’s fared well enough, posting four goals in 14 games (with 46 penalty minutes) in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. If he’s able to replicate productivity like that while riding in a middle six role, it could be a good way to make a mark.
22. Most ideal matchups for the Bruins in the first round of the playoffs: Carolina, New York Islanders, Toronto, Montreal.
23. Least ideal matchups for the Bruins in the first round of the playoffs: Pittsburgh, Columbus, Florida, New York Rangers.
24. This isn’t totally Bruins-centric, but feels worth mentioning to wrap things up.
There is understandable and deserved concern about how safe it is for the NHL to be resuming its season. In this particular writer’s opinion, the NHL seems to have put everything together as best it could. Having both hub cities in Canada was a wise call purely from a public health perspective, and it seems like the league has been forthright with the players’ association about how they plan to prevent the virus from infiltrating the hub, or mitigating the spread if it does.
To me, it all comes down to this: Everyone involved is an adult. Players, staff and everyone else involved all deserve to be presented with an abundance of information, and from there they can make their decision appropriately. I’ll never knock someone for opting out regardless of reason, but I do believe that with the way the NHL is set up, it might actually be safer to be in the hub than it is to be going back to an office right now.
If the league does manage to pull this off though, it will be nothing short of remarkable.