Slow Pastrnak, Bruins contract talks now include trade rumor

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Without the helpful (if intimidating) deadline of a salary arbitration hearing looming, some significant RFA situations remain unsettled around the NHL. It’s likely that people are waiting to see the other shoe drop with Leon Draisaitl and the Edmonton Oilers, particularly in the case of David Pastrnak and the Boston Bruins.

On Sunday, CSN New England’s Joe Haggerty discussed possible reasons why there might be a hold-up, but also noted that even a $7 million or $7.5M price tag might not be a deal-breaker. Maybe that’s more than some would like to see, but at least Bruins fans didn’t have to panic about losing another highly talented young player.

And then Monday came.

Former NHL GM Brian Lawton quickened some pulses when he tweeted that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the challenging negotiations prompted a trade:

Whoa. That can’t be likely … can it be?

Now, it’s important to state that, even in Lawton’s case, there was no “trade is imminent” phrasing. Lawton merely said “I would not be surprised.” There was even some razzing about the typo:

It’s far easier to imagine the Bruins eventually coming to terms with Pastrnak than seeing GM Don Sweeney flip a splendidly gifted 21-year-old on a roster full of players who otherwise might be entering the latter years of their primes.

Of course, the Bruins have defied conventional logic before when it comes to moving breakthrough young players, including Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton. (After all, there’s some symmetry to former Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli still having such influence over the Bruins, as his negotiations with Draisaitl could make a big difference here.)

One wouldn’t bet on Pastrnak actually being traded, but times like these make it tougher to shrug your shoulders as the negotiations drag on.

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Sweeney said there was no timetable for talks earlier this summer.

Bruins would be wise to lock him up long-term.

Who will step up and give the Bruins some decent backup goaltending?

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This post is part of Bruins Day on PHT…

The past three seasons combined, only one NHL goalie, Washington’s Braden Holtby, has played more minutes and made more saves than Tuukka Rask.

In a related story, the Bruins haven’t had a reliable backup for three years running.

In 2014-15, it was Niklas Svedberg that lost the trust of then-head coach Claude Julien.

The next season, Jonas Gustavsson played well at times, but not well enough overall.

Which brings us to last year, when Anton Khudobin was brought back to Boston, only to end up on waivers by January.

Rask, meanwhile, had to play, and play a lot. He started out in excellent form, but as the minutes piled up, his numbers began to suffer.

It got to the point in late March that Bruce Cassidy, Julien’s mid-season replacement, had to admit that Rask had been “overplayed.”

“He’s a guy that’s played a lot of hockey this year,” Cassidy said, “and he’s not a 240-pound goaltender that can handle all of the games, all of the workload every year. We know that. I’m not going to put limitations on him, but we probably overused him at the start of the year. At this time of year, it gets tougher and tougher with any player that’s been overplayed.”

Credit to Rask, who wasn’t the reason the B’s fell to Ottawa in the first round. If anything, it was all the injuries to the blue line that hurt the Bruins the most. For his part, Rask finished the playoffs with a .920 save percentage.

But with a decent backup, the B’s might’ve been able to get home-ice advantage in the playoffs. A rested Rask might’ve been even better when the games really mattered.

Next season, the Bruins are likely to start with the same tandem of Rask and Khudobin, the latter of whom still has a year left on his contract.

But if Zane McIntyre or Malcolm Subban can outplay Khudobin in the preseason, the No. 2 job could easily be taken from the veteran.

Based on his AHL numbers, McIntyre has a decent shot of doing just that. In 30 games for Providence last season, the 24-year-old had an impressive .930 save percentage.

Of course, McIntyre also got into eight NHL games last season, and his save percentage was a ghastly .858. So there’s that to consider as well.

As for Subban, his only two NHL starts have been nightmares, and his AHL numbers have actually fallen since his first two years as a pro. But there’s still a sliver of hope for the 23-year-old. One never knows when a goalie could get hot.

For the Bruins’ sake, it doesn’t really matter which goalie emerges as the backup, as long as one of them does a decent job and keeps 30-year-old Rask fresh.

Recall 2010-11 when it was Rask who played the role of reliable backup, keeping Tim Thomas fresh for his Conn Smythe Trophy-winning performance in the playoffs.

That’s what the B’s need in 2017-18 — a reliable backup. If they get one, it’ll be the first time they’ve had that in a while.

Combined, Boston’s backups went a miserable 7-11-2 last season.

Poll: Are the Bruins legitimate Stanley Cup contenders?

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This post is part of Bruins Day on PHT…

The Boston Bruins were finally able to end their two-year playoff drought last season, but they were bounced in the opening round by the Ottawa Senators.

Things were looking bleak for them during the season until management decided it was time to let go of Claude Julien. They replaced him with Bruce Cassidy, who was able to get them back on track.

But what are the expectations for Cassidy and his team this year? Can they do more than just make the playoffs?

The Bruins showed us that they’re one of the premiere possession teams in the NHL. Last year, they ranked second in the league in CF%, fourth in total shot attempts and first in shots against.

No matter what you think of possession stats, you have to believe that they’ll have some measure of success if they’re able to post similar numbers next season.

Looking at Boston’s roster, it’s clear that they have the necessary star power to be competitive in the Eastern Conference.

Patrice Bergeron‘s point total may have dropped in 2016-17 (53 points in 79 games), but he’s still an elite two-way center that every team would love to have. Both Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak provide their team with excellent offensive production on the wings, while David Krejci can be a quality second-line center when healthy.

On defense, Zdeno Chara is definitely not the player he once was, but the Bruins finally have some good, young defensemen that can also contribute. Brandon Carlo had a very good rookie season and Charlie McAvoy wowed the hockey world with his performance in the playoffs.

Carlo played in every single game of the regular season in his first year. He finished with six goals, 10 assists and a plus-9 rating, while averaging 20:48 per game. He was so impressive that the Bruins trusted him to play alongside Chara for a good chunk of the year. Taking another big step forward in 2017-18 would be huge for his team’s chances of making a long run.

McAvoy didn’t play in any games during the season because he was at Boston University. Once his NCAA campaign came to an end, he played four games with AHL Providence before making the jump to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Not only did he hold his own in the postseason, he also managed to pick up three assists in the six games while averaging over 26 minutes of ice time (he played over 31 minutes in Game 5 against Ottawa). It’s still a little early, but it certainly looks like McAvoy has the potential to become a number one defenseman in the near future.

Between the pipes, Tuukka Rask has had his share of ups and downs. Now, it’s time for him to put together another consistent year. When Rask is rolling, the Bruins can compete with anyone. But when he’s in a slump, it’s hard for them to be competitive on a nightly basis.

Boston doesn’t have another goalie in their organization that can play at as high a level as Rask does when he’s on his game. So if Rask struggles like he did at times in 2016-17, they don’t have anyone else to turn to.

Even though they have some high-end talent, the biggest question mark surrounding Boston’s roster is depth. Competing with some of the deeper teams in the conference might be a problem.

The free-agent signings of David Backes and Matt Beleskey look silly at this point. Backes put up a respectable 17 goals and 38 points in 74 games last season, but he has four years remaining on his contract at a cap hit of $6 million. Yeah, that contract looks like it’s gonna hurt.

As for Beleskey, he comes with a much more manageable cap hit of $3.8 million, but he still has three years remaining on his contract, and he’s proven to be a major flop. The 29-year-old had just three goals and eight points in 49 games.

Both veterans were expected to provide the Bruins with some depth behind their bigger names. Unfortunately, things just haven’t worked out that way.

They also have some quality on the blue line with Torey Krug, McAvoy and Carlo, but they’re a little thin after that. Chara isn’t getting younger, Adam McQuaid isn’t getting faster, and Kevan Miller and Paul Postma are nothing more than depth players.

Getting quality performances from Krug, McAvoy and Carlo will be key if they want to last longer than one round next spring.

Alright, it’s time for you to have your say. Have a vote, but also feel free to leave a note in the comments section.

It’s Boston Bruins day at PHT

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The 2016-17 season was a mixed bag for the Boston Bruins.

After missing the playoffs for two straight seasons, the Bruins battled their way back in. Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron were dominant while David Pastrnak broke through in a big way. Young defensemen such as Brandon Carlo helped the B’s transition to a more attacking approach, while Charlie McAvoy made an immediate splash during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It wasn’t all good, of course.

This last season cost Claude Julien his job, so 2017-18 will mark the first full season for Bruce Cassidy.

Tuukka Rask endured some struggles, while Zdeno Chara continued to show his age. The Ottawa Senators ended up dismissing the Bruins in six games during a first-round series.

With an aging core and a GM who might be on the hot seat, the Bruins stand as a team expected to battle for a lower playoff spot. It won’t be easy, and it can go either way, as the Bruins could either get more bounces this time around or slide badly if the more extreme scenarios come into play.

The B’s haven’t experienced too many big gains or losses during the off-season. Seeing the likes of Colin Miller leave (in his case via the expansion draft) isn’t ideal, but it also doesn’t dramatically change the complexion of this team.

Boston’s hopes rest on some coin flips going its way next season, so this should be a great way to kick off PHT’s Team of the Day series.

Bruins would be wise to go long-term with Pastrnak

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Deadlines cause anxiety, but there are also times when they come in handy.

Perhaps the looming threat of a salary arbitration hearing would be a blessing in disguise for the Boston Bruins and rising star forward David Pastrnak?

Instead, the 21-year-old remains an RFA, and Bruins GM Don Sweeney told CSN New England’s Joe Haggerty that talks aren’t exactly moving along that quickly right now.

There are plenty of instances where RFA negotiations drag into the regular season itself, and that would be a pretty significant concern for the Bruins, who seem like they’re headed for a battle to make the playoffs again in 2017-18.

Pastrnak enjoyed an explosive 2016-17 campaign, scoring 34 goals and a resounding 70 points in 75 regular-season contests. There were flashes of brilliance as he averaged about 14 minutes per night in about a half season’s work in both 2014-15 and 2015-16, but he really took off when given a full chance.

Perhaps a “bridge” deal would be easier for both sides, yet the Bruins might be wise to try to lock him up long-term now, particularly if he’d do so at a reasonable price. (Viktor Arvidsson‘s deal would probably stand as the dream scenario.)

It should be a fascinating situation to watch, at least if it ever advances beyond what sounds like a snail-like pace at the moment.