‘Energized’ Gagne in hunt for roster spot; Bruins mull Pastrnak plans

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As a two-time All-Star and four-time 30+ goal scorer, it must be a little odd for Simon Gagne to scratch and claw for a roster spot. Still, it sounds like he has a shot to stick with the Boston Bruins after sitting on the sidelines during the 2013-14 season.

Head coach Claude Julien definitely didn’t guarantee that the 34-year-old will survive cuts long enough to make the 2014-15 roster, yet his comments to NHL.com’s Matt Kalman seem fairly positive.

CSNNE.com’s Joe Haggerty passes along Gagne’s impressions on where he might stack up:

With Jordan Caron just recently placed on waivers, Gagne’s chances get even better:

Transitioning from a player fighting to keep his career alive to one who wants to get it kick-started, the Bruins might take an interesting approach with 2014 first-rounder David Pastrnak:

As Haggerty points out, while this isn’t that common a practice (many teams might balk at burning an entry-level year), the Bruins likely value the advantages of taking a hands-on approach to his development and giving the Czech-born player a chance to become accustomed to the North American game.

One other especially interesting Bruins note: it sounds like Malcolm Subban could get some NHL reps if either Tuukka Rask or Niklas Svedberg get banged up, as Kalman reports.

“Absolutely,” Julien said about his confidence Subban could handle that in a pinch. “I think what he showed yesterday and I said that before, he’s probably one of the quickest goaltenders I’ve ever seen go side to side. He’s got that quickness and good reflex. So certainly he’s a guy that I feel confidence watching him play that if he was called up we wouldn’t have any issues with that.”

Risk Factors: Boston Bruins edition

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From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you “Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.

Boston Bruins

1. Zdeno Chara…he’s not so young anymore. In fact, only 12 defensemen were older than the 37-year-old last season, and not one of them came close to averaging the 24:39 of ice time the big Bruin did.

To be sure, nobody’s suggesting that Chara has become an average defender. Team president Cam Neely went so far in May to say, “Zdeno is still, in my opinion, the best defender in the game.”

But even Chara recognizes he has to work to keep up with today’s young speedsters — this after his performance in last season’s playoff loss to the Montreal Canadiens drew criticism. (Wrote the Boston Globe after Game 7: “When Chara was on the ice in the first, he looked a little shaky, stumbling around uncharacteristically during one penalty kill shift. He was thrown off balance and so were the Black and Gold.”)

No wonder GM Peter Chiarelli was loath to trade veteran blue-liner Johnny Boychuk, choosing instead to give RFAs Torey Krug and Reilly Smith the hard sell on taking less for the good of the team. Trading Boychuk would mean even more minutes for youngsters Krug and Dougie Hamilton, and nobody can be sure how that would turn out. Those two need to show improvement regardless.

To deny that any decline in Chara’s abilities would negatively impact the Bruins’ chances at winning the Stanely Cup would be to deny his importance to the team.

And to deny that age negatively impacts a player’s abilities would be to deny reality.

2. Who replaces Jarome Iginla on the top line with David Krejci and Milan Lucic? We only ask because Iginla scored 30 goals last season. And that’s a lot of goals to replace.

Iginla, of course, was brought in last summer to replace Nathan Horton, who’d left for Columbus. But nobody’s been brought in to replace Iginla, who left for Colorado. So the Bruins are stuck hoping for more from a player that came to them in the Tyler Seguin trade — one who didn’t show all that much in his first year with the club.

“We lost Jarome, but I think Loui Eriksson is a player that can be even better than he was last year,” coach Claude Julien told NHL.com. “I think we started seeing that at the end of the year and he could be a replacement for Jarome.”

Eriksson has proven he can score goals in the NHL. He had 36 of them for Dallas in 2008-09; four times he’s scored 26 or more in a season. And he’s eager to prove he can still do it.

“I think I can bring a little more,” said Eriksson.

Except he’ll need to bring a little more than “a little more” if he hopes to replace Iginla’s 30 goals. Twenty goals more, to be exact.

3. The new-look bottom six…what if it doesn’t look so good?

When Boston defeated Vancouver in Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, the Bruins didn’t have a single forward that played fewer than 11 minutes.

“From personal experience,” said former Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, “I know when we lost the Cup to Boston, Boston was a four-line team. Probably the best fourth line, I felt, in the league.”

It’s not clear if the Bruins will still be able to roll four lines so successfully in 2014-15. They certainly didn’t in the Game 7 loss to Montreal, when Shawn Thornton played just 3:28 and three other forwards — Matt Fraser, Gregory Campbell, and Daniel Paille — each failed to break the 11-minute mark.

Two different games and two different scenarios, sure. But Boston’s bottom six still stands to be quite different this season. The popular Thornton is gone. Eriksson, as mentioned, may move up from the third line to the top line. There are open spots available for the taking.

“The competition, with it comes uncertainty and we’d all like things to be certain, but also the cream will rise to the top and I’m looking forward to it,” Chiarelli said.

“We’ve got some invites, we’ve got some young players pushing, I look forward to it.”

In deciding to let Thornton go, Chiarelli hinted that he wanted a faster and more skilled fourth line. That seemed to bode well for a player like Ryan Spooner, who’s scored at a point-per-game pace in the AHL. However, he’ll have to be reliable defensively if he wants ice time from Julien.

“You can give us some great opportunities up front and score goals,” Julien said recently, in remarks that were believed to be directed at Spooner. “But if you give up more chances against than you create then you’re not helping the team. In the long run, you don’t win championships that way.”

A championship remains the goal for the Bruins.

“I still think we’re in our window,” Neely said.

But the mere fact he had to say it, well — considering all of the above — isn’t that reason to wonder if they really are?

Bruins release Leino; Boychuk staying put?

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A couple of Bruins notes following the signing of restricted free agents Torey Krug and Reilly Smith.

First, Ville Leino has been released from his tryout, according to general manager Peter Chiarelli. No real surprise there. Leino was a long shot to make the team after being bought out by the Sabres. When Smith signed — and combined with the positive play of veteran Simon Gagne (also on a tryout) — Leino’s chances became nil.

Second, B’s fans that were worried about Johnny Boychuk’s status with the club have to be buoyed by Chiarelli’s remarks on the cap-friendly deals that Krug and Smith signed.

“They understand what we’re trying to do here,” said Chiarelli. “They understand the ultimate goal is to win and keep a strong core.”

Boychuk is certainly a member of that Boston core. Only Zdeno Chara logged more minutes last season than the 30-year-old right-shooting defenseman. It was the Bruins’ cap crunch, along with Boychuk’s pending UFA status and $3.4 million cap hit, that led to the trade speculation.

Chiarelli might still make a trade to give the Bruins some cap flexibility. It just may not have to include a key player like Boychuk now.

Krug, Smith sign with Bruins

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You can scratch two more names off the restricted free agents list.

The Boston Bruins announced new one-year deals for defenseman Torey Krug and forward Reilly Smith Monday.

According to the release, the deals are identical carrying a cap hit of $1.4 million.

With the signings, the Bruins now have $418,000 of cap space remaining per The Boston Globe’s Amalie Benjamin. This of course includes the relief they get from Marc Savard remaining on long term injured reserve.

Krug, 23, actually ends up taking a pay cut in the deal as he made roughly $1.75 million last season according to CSNNE’s Joe Haggerty.  TSN’s Aaron Ward reports Krug’s deal is worth $900,000 with a $100,000 signing bonus.

Krug had 14 goals and 40 points in 79 games during his rookie season with the Bruins in 2013-14. He became just the fifth rookie in franchise history to score 10 or more goals in his first season.

In his first full season with the Bruins, Smith who earned $2.7 million over three years on his entry-level deal, scored 20 goals and 51 points in 82 games in 2013-14.  The Bruins acquired Smith in July 2013 from the Dallas along with Loui Eriksson, Matt Fraser and Joe Morrow in the deal which saw Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and Ryan Button go to the Stars.

Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli is going to be a busy man next summer. In addition to Smith, Krug and Fraser, Ryan Spooner, Dougie Hamilton, Jordan Caron, Justin Florek and Niklas Svedberg will become restricted free agents following the 2014-15 season.

That’s on top of Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid, Matt Bartkowski, Carl Soderberg, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille becoming unrestricted free agents.

Smith and Krug coupled with Jaden Schwartz leaving money on the table in St. Louis  certainly can’t help the case of Columbus Blue Jackets’ holdout Ryan Johansen.

Nashville also inked restricted free agent defenseman Ryan Ellis on Thursday.

Brenden Dillon and Cody Eakin of the Dallas Stars along with Johansen are also among the notable restricted free agents still awaiting new deals.

Bruins’ Pastrnak returns to practice, Campbell questionable

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Boston Bruins 2014 first round pick David Pastrnak returned to practice Sunday.

Pastrnak suffered a shoulder injury early in training camp after taking a hit from defenseman Matt Bartkowski.

The 18-year-old, who was selected 25th overall in June, had an impressive showing early in camp and was working is way into contention for a roster spot prior to the injury.

On Sunday, Pastrnak skated on a line with forwards Ryan Spooner and Ville Leino.

However, following practice, Bruins coach Claude Julien said the rookie has not been cleared for contact as of yet, but the team would like to see him in game action before having to make a decision on where he’ll play this season.

Pastrnak had eight goals and 24 points in 36 games last season in the second-tier pro league in Sweden.

Julien also updated forward Gregory Campbell’s situation Sunday saying that the rugged forward is questionable for the team’s season opener Oct. 8.

Boston trimmed their camp roster by 11 players Sunday.