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

Rebuild? Contend? Trade or extend Pastrnak? Bruins' big questions
Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images

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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    Flyers trade Pride-night boycott defenseman Provorov in 3-team deal

    flyers trade
    Dennis Schneidler/USA TODAY Sports

    PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Flyers have traded Ivan Provorov, sending away the defenseman who boycotted the team’s Pride night as part of a three-team trade that included the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Los Angeles Kings.

    The seventh overall pick of the 2015 draft, the 26-year-old Provorov lands in Columbus and is set to enter the fifth season of a $40.5 million, six-year contract. He was the centerpiece Tuesday of the first major move under new Flyers’ leadership.

    There were plenty of moving parts in the three-team deal.

    — Philadelphia traded Provorov and forward Hayden Hodgson to Los Angeles in exchange for goalie Cal Petersen, defenseman Sean Walker, defenseman Helge Grans and the Kings’ 2024 second-round pick. The Kings lost in the first round of the playoffs.

    — Columbus acquired defenseman Kevin Connauton from Philadelphia in exchange for a 2023 first-round pick (22nd overall) and a conditional second-round pick in either the 2024 or 2025 NHL Draft. Columbus acquired Provorov from Los Angeles in exchange for Connauton.

    The Flyers already hold the No. 7 pick in this season’s draft and now also have the 23rd pick as they start accumulating key assets for long-range success in what is expected to be a deep draft.

    Flyers general manager Danny Briere had said no player was untouchable after the Flyers missed the playoffs for the third straight season and went to work with the Stanley Cup Final still underway. The Flyers named broadcaster Keith Jones team president last month and he is still working the Final for TNT. But it’s clear the overdue rebuild is underway for a franchise that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup in 48 years.

    “We felt that the picks and the direction that we wanted to go in, it was really enticing, very exciting,” Briere said. “We have a chance to really start building the team the way we wanted. The right way.”

    Briere said the Flyers are “open for business” this summer and that included potentially listening to offers for No. 1 goalie Carter Hart. Coach John Tortorella, Briere and Jones have all tempered offseason expectations for any fan looking for a quick fix. The trio all insist the Flyers have a cohesive plan for the future.

    Provorov had 65 goals and 217 points in 532 career games with the Flyers. The Russian was widely criticized in January when he cited his Russian Orthodox religion as the reason he did not participate in pregame warmups when the Flyers wore Pride-themed jerseys and used sticks wrapped in rainbow Pride tape.

    “I respect everybody’s choices,” Provorov said after the game. “My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.”

    Now, he’s traded during Pride month.

    Briere said the backlash over Pride night had nothing to do with trading Provorov.

    The Blue Jackets, who missed the playoffs this season, were ready to take a flier on a defenseman seemingly with many productive years ahead.

    “Improving our blue line has been a priority for us and acquiring Ivan gives us an established left-shot defenseman who is still a young player with his best seasons in front of him,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “He immediately improves our group on defense as he is durable, has great skill, skates well, is an excellent passer with an accurate shot and can effectively play at both ends of the ice.”

    Provorov said at the end of the season he wasn’t necessarily happy the Flyers planned to rebuild but understood the decision. Briere declined to say if Provorov wanted out of Philadelphia.

    “I wouldn’t say it’s the most positive news you can hear, but there’s a bright future here, and there’s a lot of great players that can keep growing,” Provorov said in April. “Obviously, it depends on how quick everybody gets better and how quickly the team game gets better. I think that’s what determines the length of the rebuild.”

    Turns out, the potential success out of the haul the Flyers got for Provorov just may determine the length of the rebuild.

    Golden Knights take 2-0 lead in Stanley Cup Final with 7-2 win over Panthers

    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

    LAS VEGAS — No team in over 25 years has been more dominant than the Vegas Golden Knights through the first two games of a Stanley Cup Final.

    They have outscored the Florida Panthers by eight goals, including a 7-2 victory in Game 2 that put the Knights two wins from the first championship in the franchise’s short six-year history.

    It will take a rare rally for the Panthers to come back as the series shifts to Florida for Game 3 on Thursday. Teams that took a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final are 31-3 in the expansion era, but the Panthers opened the playoffs by storming back from 3-1 down to beat the heavily favored Boston Bruins.

    Florida will have to significantly up its level of play to beat a Vegas team that won by three goals on Saturday and then five in this game. The last team to win the first two games of a Cup Final by more than eight combined goals was the 1996 Colorado Avalanche – who outscored the Panthers by nine.

    “I think our depth has been a strength all year,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “It is the biggest reason we are still here, why we beat Winnipeg, Edmonton, Dallas. I just feel that we have the best team from player one through 20.”

    Jonathan Marchessault scored twice for the Knights and started an early blitz that chased Sergei Bobrovsky, the NHL’s hottest postseason goalie.

    Marchessault also had an assist to finish with three points. His 12 postseason goals set a Golden Knights record, with all of them coming after the first round. The only player with more following the opening round was Pavel Bure, who scored 13 for Vancouver in 1994.

    “They want to set the tone with being undisciplined like Game 1 and we set the tone back,” Marchessault said. “It was scoring that first goal there. But we’re still pretty far from our goal here.”

    Brett Howden scored twice for the Knights, who also got goals from Alec Martinez, Nicolas Roy and Michael Amadio. Six players had at least two points for Vegas, all 18 Knights skaters were on the ice for even-strength goals and their nine goal scorers through the first two games are a Stanley Cup Final record. The Knights’ seven goals tied a franchise mark for a playoff game.

    It was too much for Bobrovsky, who was removed 7:10 into the second period down 4-0. It was the fifth time in 12 games the Knights have chased the opposing goalie.

    Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, carried Florida through the Eastern Conference playoffs. Coming into the Stanley Cup Final, he had won 11 of his past 12 starts with a 1.95 goals-against average and .942 save percentage during that stretch. But he’s given up eight goals in 87 minutes against Vegas, compiling a 5.52 GAA and .826 save percentage in the series.

    “We can be a little better in front of our goaltender,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “I got him out to keep him rested.”

    Matthew Tkachuk and Anton Lundell scored for Florida.

    Adin Hill continued his stellar play in net with 29 saves for the Knights. Hill once again brought his feistiness as well as his A-game. He stopped Carter Verhaeghe on a breakaway in the first, and later that period hit Tkachuk, who was in his net, with his blocker and then slashed him with his stick.

    “He’s been unreal for us,” Vegas forward William Carrier said. “He’s been unbelievable.”

    A group of four fans behind one of the nets wore sweaters that spelled out his last name, and Hill has often received the loudest cheers from Knights fans, reminiscent of when Marc-Andre Fleury was in goal for Vegas in its first three seasons.

    “It’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had playing hockey,” Hill said. “I’m just enjoying it, cherishing every day. It’s been awesome to be part of the journey with this team.”

    The Knights were dominant early, taking a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals from Marchessault and Martinez. It was Vegas’ third game in a row with a power-play goal, its first such stretch since Christmas week.

    The Panthers lost their biggest, toughest defenseman early in the game when Radko Gudas was injured on a hit by Vegas forward Ivan Barbashev. Gudas left 6:39 in and did not return.

    That was one of several big hits by Barbashev, the Golden Knights’ biggest trade-deadline acquisition, a Stanley Cup champion with St. Louis in 2019. Barbashev broke the sternum of Colorado defenseman Samuel Girard during the playoffs last year, also on a clean hit.

    Vegas had its own scare late in the second period when Jack Eichel was nailed in the right shoulder by Tkachuk. Eichel returned in the third and set up Marchessault’s second goal for his second assist of the game.

    “We did a good job managing momentum tonight,” Eichel said. “And we got some timely goals.”

    Ducks hire former Leafs, Islanders assistant Greg Cronin as head coach

    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

    ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Anaheim Ducks have hired veteran NHL assistant and AHL head coach Greg Cronin to be their new head coach.

    Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek announced the decision to hire the 60-year-old Cronin, who will be a first-time NHL head coach.

    Cronin has 12 years of experience as an NHL assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs and in two stints with the New York Islanders. The Massachusetts native has been the head coach of the AHL’s Colorado Eagles since 2018, and he spent six years as a collegiate head coach at Northeastern.

    Verbeek called Cronin “the ideal fit” to take over a young, rebuilding team.

    “I felt we needed a teacher of the finer points of the game, and someone who has worked extensively over time with talented young players, helping them develop into successful NHL players,” Verbeek said. “Greg has done all that and more.”

    Cronin replaces Dallas Eakins, whose contract wasn’t renewed in April after the Ducks finished their fourth consecutive losing season of his tenure. Anaheim finished in last place in the overall NHL standings at 23-47-12.

    The Ducks never finished higher than sixth in the Pacific Division during Eakins’ four years in charge. They’ve missed the playoffs in a franchise-record five straight seasons, and Anaheim was the NHL’s worst defensive team of the 21st century by several measures during the just-completed season.

    Cronin takes over a struggling team that is still loaded with young talent, including the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming draft and a wealth of farm prospects seemingly ready to break into the NHL. Anaheim has a solid long-term base with playmaking center Trevor Zegras, two-time All-Star Troy Terry and promising forward Mason McTavish.

    Cronin has never led an NHL bench, but he interviewed for the Boston Bruins’ vacancy a year ago.

    He becomes only the Ducks’ fourth permanent head coach since Henry and Susan Samueli bought the franchise from Disney in 2005, joining Randy Carlyle, Bruce Boudreau and Eakins.

    Canadiens sign Cole Caufield to 8-year, $62.8 million extension

    David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports

    MONTREAL — The Montreal Canadiens signed Cole Caufield to an eight-year, $62.8 million contract extension.

    The deal, which will pay the 22-year-old winger an average annual salary of $7.85 million, runs through the 2030-31 season.

    Caufield scored 26 goals and added 10 assists in 46 games in 2022-23 before he underwent season-ending surgery on his right shoulder in February.

    Despite missing nearly half the season, Caufield led the Canadiens in goals for the second consecutive season, tied with Nick Suzuki.

    Montreal selected Caufield in the first round (15th overall) of the 2019 draft.

    Since making his NHL debut in 2020-21, the forward has 84 points (53 goals, 31 assists) in 123 NHL games.