Ryan Spooner

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Bruised Bruins get Bergeron and Backes back, at least

On paper, a game against old chums the Vancouver Canucks would probably be an assumed W for the Boston Bruins.

It hasn’t been safe to assume much during an up-and-down start so far, and that goes straight down to injuries, as Bruins news seems to rotate with the bad and the good.

In the case of Thursday, the good and the bad seem to come in hour rotations rather than days. Earlier, the unfortunate news came: Tuukka Rask was diagnosed with a concussion, adding to the rough news about Ryan Spooner.

If Anton Khudobin struggles and the Bruins need to outscore their problems, at least they’re getting reinforcements in that regard, as both David Backes and Patrice Bergeron are back in action.

One would expect Bergeron to resume much of his puck-mastery tonight, or at least soon, even if he might take a while to improve after a 2016-17 season he wasn’t totally pleased with.

(Bergeron was probably in the minority there, what with winning the Selke Trophy and his line with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak dominating opponents.)

Backes might be most interesting to watch. He reportedly lost 10 lbs. because of diverticulitis, so you wonder if he’ll be limited for a while. He’s trying to bounce back from 2016-17 in a more objective way than Bergeron, after all.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Bruins turn to Khudobin after Rask diagnosed with concussion

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A bad start to the season officially got worse on Thursday as the Boston Bruins announced that Tuukka Rask has been diagnosed with a concussion.

The 30-year-old netminder collided with Anders Bjork during practice on Wednesday and needed to be helped off the ice. Anton Khudobin will start Thursday night against the Canucks and Zane MacIntyre will serve as his backup.

The Bruins are 2-3-0 on the season with a minus-4 goal differential. Rask has struggled as well with an ugly .887 even strength save percentage in four starts. With four games over the next 11 days, the hope is that either Khudobin or MacIntyre can right the ship as Rask heals.

“I feel good. Camp was good and everything is fine, and I’ve started better than last year,” said Khudobin via NBC Sports Boston. “My role is just day-to-day. Today is a game day and hopefully, you get a good result, and then tomorrow is another new day.”

As the Bruins get David Backes and possibly Patrice Bergeron back, they’ve watched as Rask and Ryan Spooner (4-6 weeks) leave the lineup with injury. Having a roster in flux while you’re trying to find some consistency will be a tough ask for head coach Bruce Cassidy and his players.

The 31-year-old Khudobin has played well in two appearances this season, stopping 32 of 33 shots faced and posting a .970 ESSV%.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Rask hurt in Bruins practice; Spooner out 4-6 weeks

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Well, the good news regarding injuries and the Boston Bruins didn’t last very long.

Earlier this week, PHT noted that forwards Patrice Bergeron and David Backes are expected to return in the near future, possibly as soon as Thursday. That’s great, but Wednesday turned out to be lousy thanks to one injury scare and one sure-thing that’s a negative.

The biggest concern is that of Tuukka Rask, and it’s something that might not clear up for a while. Rask was helped off the ice during practice today after being “bowled over” by young forward Anders Bjork.

The Bruins might dodge a bullet there, which would be huge if their backup work in anyway resembles the woes of 2016-17.

While we don’t know the severity of Rask’s issues just yet, there’s flat-out bad news for Ryan Spooner.

The Bruins estimate Spooner’s window of recovery at four-to-six weeks for a (cringe) “right groin adductor tear,” which he suffered on Oct. 15. Adam McQuaid suffered an injury in that same contest, so that could go down as a costly date for a Bruins team that has been fairly described as top-heavy.

Spooner, 25, was off to a slow start so far this season. He didn’t score a goal and managed one assist in five games, averaging 13:17 TOI per game. Even during that time, he was deployed in a very protected way, so the B’s can’t really claim that this is more than a body blow.

Even so, the Bruins might sport a patchwork lineup if Bergeron and/or Backes can’t play on Thursday. They’ll likely chalk it up as a win if Rask avoids anything significant, though.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Big, bad contracts? Bruins’ salary cap situation after Pastrnak signing

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With a $6,666,666 cap hit, David Pastrnak‘s six-year contract might seem like a deal with the devil for the Boston Bruins. All things considered, it’s actually pretty reasonable, though.

Pastrnak is 21, and he only reached the legal drinking age in the U.S. on May 25. His youthful potential makes him stick out like a sore thumb on a Bruins roster that is, well, a little … veteran-heavy.

(It’s really experienced; yeah, that’s the way to put it.)

This Pastrnak contract seems like a solid excuse to examine the Bruins’ salary cap structure, continuing what’s become a running series at PHT.

Expensive old guys (and David Pastrnak)

Let’s begin with aging players whose contracts aren’t so scary … at least not right now.

Patrice Bergeron – 32 years old, $6.875M cap hit expires after 2021-22

Here’s a quick summation of my opinion regarding Bergeron: I once argued on Rotoworld’s Podcast that he probably belonged on the NHL’s list of the 100 greatest players of all-time. Bergeron can do it all, and figures to remain a serious difference-maker for some time.

Even so, Bergeron’s dealt with some troubling concussion issues, and has a lot of NHL mileage on his body. He’s been a fixture since 2003-4, after all.

There’s some concern that he’ll regress sharply, but here’s the thing: Bergeron is a steal right now, so the Bruins might just have to pay more in the future for getting a huge bargain in the past.

Pastrnak – 21, Mark of the Beast cap hit runs through 2022-23

It’s a near-certainty that Pastrnak’s numbers were inflated by his time with Bergeron and Brad Marchand, but such logic didn’t hurt Leon Draisaitl‘s wallet (i.e. the Connor McDavid bump), now did it? Injuries and other bad bounces can change things fast, but as it stands, this seems like a nice value.

Marchand – 29, $6.125M through 2024-25

The Bruins must have breathed a sigh of relief that they were able to re-sign Marchand at a reasonable cap hit, even as he was erupting from “really good and really annoying” to “really, really, REALLY good and really annoying.”

It’s easy to forget how frequently Marchand’s name landed in trade rumors when his points-to-agitation ratio wasn’t quite as helpful to the Bruins’ cause.

Right now, Marchand is a steal, probably an extreme one. He’s dangerously close to 30, and that’s a long contract, so that deal could be a problem in the future (especially considering how he likes to mix it up).

Tuukka Rask – 30, $7M through 2020-21

As the Bruins have declined from a contender to a team scraping to make the playoffs, the hype has fizzled for Rask to an extent. That’s just a nature of hype, though, because Rask remains one of the best workhorses in the game.

The problem remains similar: he’s getting up there in age. The term is both good news (not agonizingly long if he really slips) and bad news (four years, so if he does slip, the Bruins must find answers in net).

Old, expensive guys: part yikes

Matt Beleskey might not qualify as “old” at 29, but his contract is aging like reverse-wine with three years left at $3.8M. David Backes is 33 and costs $6M for four more years. Yeah, not good.

David Krejci straddles the line between those two groups. He quietly had a solid season in 2016-17, but at 31 and with a $7.25M cap hit, his contract might be something the Bruins regret. Especially if he really starts to hit a wall with four years remaining.

Decisions on defense

Reports indicate that the Bruins have at least discussed an extension with 40-year-old, bedrock defenseman Zdeno Chara. His $4M cap hit for next season is very nice, yet you wonder if Boston would be dancing around mines if they pull the trigger on a deal without being confident about his long-term viability.

(It would also provide cruel comedy if they’re proactive in re-signing a 40-year-old man after waiting until training camp to sign a 21-year-old rising star.)

Boston’s defensive future is fuzzy, as they only have two blueliners (Torey Krug and Kevan Miller) locked down for three years. Everyone else is on one or two-year pacts.

There are other young players to assess, from prospects to Ryan Spooner and Frank Vatrano.

(Opinion: Vatrano could be in for at least a moderate breakthrough in 2017-18, so the Bruins might be wise to at least explore a cheap extension sooner rather than later. Or, you know, they could pay a lot of money for another rare, precious young scorer. That seems to be going well for them.)

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So … yeah, the Bruins seem like a mess, at least when you take a view beyond the next season or two.

On the bright side, their best players are locked up at good-to-great rates, at least as of 2017. It’s not all bad, but you still have to wonder if management has the right vision for the future of this franchise.

Under Pressure: David Backes

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This post is part of Bruins Day on PHT…

David Backes had a tough first year in Boston.

Not as tough as Loui Eriksson‘s first year in Vancouver, mind you.

But you know things didn’t go all that well when management is forced to defend your signing at season’s end.

“David had a hard time adjusting,” said team president Cam Neely. “He mentioned that at the end of year. It was more of a challenge for him to come to a new city and a new team, to get to know 22, 24 other players. That took a while for him to get adjusted.

“I feel like David is really built for the type of playoff hockey you have to play to go deep. He’s a great leader. He’s helped the young kids a ton. If he could pick up a little bit of a step in his game, which he’s going to work on in the offseason, I think that would be beneficial for him and us.”

Backes notched 17 goals with 21 assists in 74 regular-season games — which isn’t the worst production ever. And to be fair, he did produce in the playoffs, with one goal and three assists in six games.

The concern is his age. At 33, it’s easier said than done to “pick up” a step — even with a hard, focused offseason of training. And with four years left on a $30 million contract, it’s fair to wonder if the B’s should’ve just let Eriksson go and saved the cap space for use down the road.

Alas, nothing can be done about that now. But at this point in his career, Backes is probably best suited for a bottom-six role. That’s why the Bruins would love to see a youngster like Anders Bjork come in and show he can play in the top six.

In theory, Backes could form a complementary duo with Ryan Spooner, another player who will enter the season under pressure to perform. The former is defensively responsible and can win battles, while the latter’s strength is offense. Heck, throw in another player with something to prove, Matt Beleskey, and perhaps you’ve got yourself a third line.

So much will depend on Boston’s young forward prospects and whether any are ready to play at the NHL level. If one or two of them show well, Backes could be a solid third-liner. If not, he might have to play in the top six again, and that may not be the best thing for the B’s.