Rebuild? Contend? Trade or extend Pastrnak? Bruins’ big questions

Rebuild? Contend? Trade or extend Pastrnak? Bruins' big questions
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It’s been about three weeks since the Bruins shockingly fired Bruce Cassidy, and it’s still bewildering. Maybe the Bruins needed a “new voice,” but it’s fair to argue that GM Don Sweeney should’ve been replaced, instead.

Obviously, that’s not how the situation played out. While Cassidy took the fall, the Bruins handed Don Sweeney a contract extension.

So, the good news for Don Sweeney is that he kept his job as Bruins GM. The bad news is that it looks like a difficult job.

Bruins’ salary cap situation unclear, especially without clarity yet from Bergeron

Of course, some of the most important questions about the Bruins short and long-term future revolve around choices that aren’t totally in Don Sweeney’s control.

Most immediately, there are the questions about the future of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. Lately, the indication is that Bergeron might return for 2022-23 instead of deciding to retire. With Krejci, that situation is murky.

Right there, the Bruins could either possess an aging-but-excellent one-two punch at center again, they could end up with Bergeron alone, or perhaps none of the the two.

[Incredibly, Patrice Bergeron won the 2022 Selke Trophy]

Naturally, adding Bergeron and/or Krejci to the mix would create salary cap ripple effects for the Bruins, as well. Via Cap Friendly, the Bruins currently have about $2.4M in salary cap room.

Under normal circumstances, that number would already be misleading. Considering the deluge of injuries likely sending a ton of money to LTIR to start the 2022-23 season, the Bruins’ salary cap space figures to be especially elastic. (Charlie McAvoy carries a $9.5M cap hit alone.)

So, there’s wiggle room regarding Boston’s actual ability to maneuver. Yet, the bottom line is that things will be about as snug as Bergeron’s coverage in the defensive zone.

Also immediate: Bruins must find a new head coach to replace Cassidy

Of course, Don Sweeney and the Bruins created a new challenge by firing Bruce Cassidy, as they also need to find a new head coach.

If you’re looking for a contrarian take on Bruce Cassidy, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Just about every indication is that Bruce Cassidy created a strong structure for the Bruins.

Hockey Viz’s Micah Blake McCurdy attempts to isolate a coach’s impact. McCurdy’s measures back up the consensus that Cassidy did strong work with the Bruins — all the way up until his tenure ended.

via Hockey Viz

[Golden Knights quickly hired Bruce Cassidy as head coach after Bruins fired him]

Of course, coaching isn’t just about structure or embracing “good nerds.” The Bruins indicated that there was a disconnect between Bruce Cassidy and the team’s younger players.

Could a new coach drive better results from younger players? If nothing else, such a move might placate scoring winger Jake DeBrusk.

Personally, I’ll defer to others about how “energetic” Bruins head coach candidate Jay Leach might connect more with young players. Instead, I can’t help but wonder: do the Bruins really have enough young talent for any of that to matter?

Sure, there are some interesting prospects, such as Fabian Lysell. Yet, it can’t be ignored that the Bruins’ prospect pool has been ranked somewhere between bottom-10 and bottom-five in the NHL. Without a 2022 first-rounder, that group may only slide even lower.

So, that brings us up to an even bigger fork in the road: do the Bruins trade David Pastrnak, or sign him to a big contract extension?

Trade or extend Pastrnak? Bruins must answer a pivotal question

David Pastrnak’s current contract is such a “deal with the devil” that includes a bargain $6.6667M cap hit. However, the 26-year-old can easily advocate for a huge raise once his contract expires after next season.

So, the Bruins likely want to get ahead of this situation. Do you trade Pastrnak for picks and/or prospects, or cough up big money for a contract extension?

Such questions go beyond whether Pastrnak is worth the money and risk (yes, and probably). Really, that decision is a barometer for where this team is going.

After all, the Bruins aren’t likely to land a pick or prospect in a Pastrnak trade who can actually match Pastrnak’s value. Instead, you’d save that money, replenish the farm system, and hope to fight another day.

There’s logic to going down each path. That said, the Bruins aren’t really set up very well for a full-fledged rebuild that would include a full teardown. To be clear: it wouldn’t be impossible; it would just be difficult to pull off.

Bruins are structured more like a contender than a rebuilder

Take a look at the Bruins’ salary cap situation at Cap Friendly.

Again, you’ll see a missing first-rounder, and also a lack of a second-round pick in both 2023 and 2024.

Beyond that, you’ll see a lot of veteran players who boast term and, in many cases, clauses that limit the Bruins’ trade options.

  • Trading Brad Marchand seems like a terrible idea, considering his elite status and dirt-cheap contract ($6.125M AAV through 2024-25). He’s also slated to being the season on LTIR. Then again, if you boldly wanted to rebuild, maybe Marchand would want out? Either way, he has some trade protection in his deal.
  • Taylor Hall, 30, boasts almost the same contract as Marchand ($6M, also through 2024-25) and robust trade protection.
  • The Bruins just trade-and-extended Hampus Lindholm. The 28-year-old’s $6.5M cap hit is more manageable than expected, but the term is daunting: through 2029-30. Lindholm’s contract also carries serious trade protection.
  • Charlie Coyle, 30, presents a $5.25M cap hit through 2025-26. Coyle also has trade protection in the form of a 10-team list. Coyle’s the classic good player on an iffy contract, making him a magnet for imaginary trades. The Bruins aren’t likely to “win” a Coyle trade in reality, but maybe they could shake loose from his deal without too much pain?
  • Would Brandon Carlo be the sort of player who could get moved for futures? The 25-year-old doesn’t have an NMC/NTC, and his $4.1M cap hit (through 2026-27) could be appealing to a trade suitor.
  • Clearly, Don Sweeney has been OK with saddling the Bruins with no-movement/no-trade clauses. Even depth veterans Derek Forbort and Nick Foligno boast such protections.

When it comes to NHL trades, all it takes is one GM to turn an untradeable contract into a head-scratching deal. Right now, it seems like the Bruins aren’t really set up for a full-fledged rebuild.

What if the Bruins tank — but just for this season?

What if the Bruins tank for short-term pain, but mid-term gain?

As a reminder, Marchand, McAvoy, and other key Bruins are expected to miss a lot of time to start the 2022-23 season.

Maybe the Bruins would “write off” this season, hoping to tank their way to Connor Bedard in the 2023 NHL Draft? Perhaps you throw in a David Pastrnak trade/other rebuilding trades to “retool on the fly?”

Granted, such a strategy starts to crumble if Bergeron and/or Krejci play in 2022-23, and keep the Bruins competitive. If that’s the case, the conversation may swing from “Should the Bruins rebuild?” to “Can the Bruins actually contend for a Stanley Cup?”

Overall, the Bruins face some tough questions, so we’ll see if Don Sweeney is indeed the right choice to remain as GM.

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    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

    Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
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    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.

    Bruins rolling, rest of NHL making final push for playoffs

    John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
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    SUNRISE, Fla. — Bruce Cassidy’s Vegas Golden Knights lost eight of 10 games going into the All-Star break after leading the Pacific Division at the midway point of the NHL season.

    They’re still safely in a playoff spot in the Western Conference, but they can’t keep it up.

    “We’re still in a good position – that’s the way we look at it,” Cassidy said. “There’s not too many teams that can cruise home the last 30 games in this league, and we’re certainly not one of them.”

    Cassidy’s old team, the Boston Bruins, probably could. They’re atop the NHL and running away with the Atlantic Division.

    With 39 wins and 83 points through 51 games, Boston is on pace to break the record for the best regular season in NHL history. The Carolina Hurricanes, who beat Boston in seven games in the first round last year, are next in the standings at 76 points.

    “Top to bottom, there’s no weaknesses,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said.

    The Bruins are in a class of their own, but the playoff races behind them in the East and West should be hot down the stretch with roughly 30 games to go before the chase for the Stanley Cup begins.

    METROPOLITAN DIVISION

    The Hurricanes rode a seven-game winning streak into the break, putting some fear into the Bruins in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy and home-ice advantage through the postseason. Winger Max Pacioretty re-tearing his right Achilles tendon five games into his return didn’t slow them down, and if their goaltending holds up, Carolina stands a good chance of reaching the East final.

    “This team, it’s a special group of guys,” said Brind’Amour, who captained Carolina to the Cup in 2006 and is in his fifth year as coach. “We kind of show that nightly. It’s just very consistent, and they take their job real serious. They do it right.”

    The second-place New Jersey Devils are contending for the first time since 2018. Bottoming out the next season helped them win the lottery for No. 1 pick Jack Hughes, a two-time All-Star who has them winning ahead of schedule.

    “Much better than being out of the mix,” Hughes said. “We’re really excited because it’s going to be a lot of important hockey, and it’s going to be really competitive and we’re really pumped to be where we are.”

    They’re followed by the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders. All three New York-area teams could make it, which was the expectation for the Rangers after reaching the East final last year.

    “I think the run last year really taught us a few things and stuff that we obviously could build on for the rest of this year,” 2021 Norris-Trophy winning defenseman Adam Fox said.

    ATLANTIC

    The Rangers lost to the Lightning in six games last spring, when two-time champion Tampa Bay reached the Stanley Cup Final for the third consecutive season before getting beat by the Colorado Avalanche.

    The Lightning are almost certain to face the Toronto Maple Leafs – who haven’t won a playoff series since the NHL salary cap era began in 2005 – in the first round and remain a threat to the Bruins.

    But Boston has separated itself despite starting the season without top left winger Brad Marchand and No. 1 defenseman Charlie McAvoy. The Bruins have lost only 12 games under new coach Jim Montgomery.

    “You just keep winning,” said All-Star right winger David Pastrnak, who’s tied for third in the league in scoring. “Every single line and every single guy is going and it obviously builds our confidence. It’s funny sometimes what confidence can do in hockey.”

    The Islanders should have some more confidence after acquiring 30-goal scorer Bo Horvat from Vancouver, but still need to make up ground to get in.

    CENTRAL

    Defending champion Colorado climbed in the standings – winning seven of eight going into the break despite an injury-riddled first half of the season. Captain Gabriel Landeskog still has not made his season debut since undergoing knee surgery. It would be foolish to bet against the Avs coming out of the West again.

    “It’s up to us: We control our own fate,” All-Star center Nathan MacKinnon said. “We need to definitely keep playing the way we were before the break. No matter who’s in the lineup we were playing well, playing hard, so it would definitely help with healthy bodies.”

    They still trail the Dallas Stars, Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild in the Central, and the Nashville Predators are on their heels. Only the Stars and Jets are essentially guaranteed a spot.

    “Every point, you grind for it,” Stars leading scorer Jason Robertson said. “Every point’s going to be a dog fight, so it’s going to be a fun 30 games down the stretch.”

    PACIFIC

    Undisputed MVP favorite Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, who were swept by Colorado in the West final, have a little bit of catching up to do in the Pacific Division.

    The top spot is held by the Seattle Kraken, who surprisingly are on pace to make the playoffs in their second season but still need to fend off the Los Angeles Kings and the Vegas Golden Knights.

    Edmonton – and the Battle of Alberta rival Calgary Flames – have the talent to not only get in but make a run. McDavid leads the league with 41 goals and 92 points, 16 more than No. 2 scorer and teammate Leon Draisaitl, and is producing unlike anyone since Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux in the mid-1990s.

    Now he’ll try to carry the Oilers into the playoffs and beyond.

    “It hasn’t been easy at all for our group. We’ve kind of had to battle for everything that we’ve got,” McDavid said. “We’ve always been a second-half team for whatever reason. Even since my first year, we’ve always been better in the second half, so we’ll definitely look to continue that. That being said, we’re not going to hang our hat on that and expect that to carry us to the playoffs. There’s a lot of work to be done.”

    Capitals sign Sonny Milano to 3-year, $5.7 million extension

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    ARLINGTON, Va. — The Washington Capitals signed winger Sonny Milano to a three-year extension worth $5.7 million.

    General manager Brian MacLellan announced the contract, adding to an already busy All-Star break for taking care of future business. The Capitals extended forward Dylan Strome for five years, $25 million.

    Like Strome, Milano has fit in as a new addition for Washington. He’s now set to count $1.9 million against the salary cap through the 2025-26 season.

    The 26-year-old Milano has been a near-perfect bargain signing for the Capitals after joining them on an NHL veteran one-year deal after this season got underway. He has eight goals and 14 assists for 22 points in 40 games since getting called up from Hershey of the American Hockey League.

    Originally drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets 16th in 2014, Milano split his first eight seasons in the league with them and the Anaheim Ducks. He went unsigned as an unrestricted free agent last summer despite putting up 34 points in 66 games with Anaheim.