Kevan Miller

Krejci may miss Bruins opener; Bergeron expected to be ready

BOSTON  — A major part of the Boston Bruins’ success the past several years has been their depth at center.

That depth might be tested early this season, with center David Krejci questionable for the Bruins’ regular-season opener at the Dallas Stars on Thursday.

Krejci, who suffered a lower-body injury and played just two shifts in a preseason game on Sept. 23, practiced Tuesday. But he didn’t take contact and general manager Don Sweeney left open the possibility that the Bruins won’t have Krejci against the Stars.

”It’s to be determined still,” Sweeney said. ”He worked his way back up there for sake of a practice, and he’ll continue to do the same. So we’ll re-evaluate every day. He’s possible.”

Krejci said he’s making progress.

”It was a good day today, for sure,” he said.

Fellow center Patrice Bergeron was slow in returning from a groin injury during training camp. But he made his preseason debut in Boston’s last exhibition game and is expected to be ready against Dallas. When healthy, the Bruins’ center quartet of Bergeron, Krejci, Charlie Coyle and Sean Kuraly is one of the best in the league and was important in the Bruins reaching Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final last season.

The Bruins got by last season without Bergeron for 16 games and Kuraly for 10, in addition to tens of man games lost by their defensemen, and finished tied for second in the NHL overall standings with 107 points.

Bergeron had 79 points (32 goals, 47 assists) in 65 games. Krejci had 73 points (20 goals, 52 assists) in 81 games, Kuraly had 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists) in 71 games and Coyle had six points (two goals, four assists) in 21 games after joining Boston in a February trade from the Minnesota Wild. But Coyle showed more of his abilities in the postseason, getting 16 points (nine goals, seven assists) in 24 games.

”I think it was a factor last year for our hockey club, the success we had,” Sweeney said. ”All those guys can help drive a line. . Charlie Coyle is the same way, Sean Kuraly is the same way. They have roles, they have responsibilities and standards that (coach) Bruce (Cassidy) holds them to each and every night.”

Bruins president Cam Neely said: ”I really like the fact that when we’re on the road, Butch (Cassidy) (doesn’t) worry as much about matchups based on what Kuraly can do, when he plays against top lines. That line is pretty solid for us. So I think it gives Butch a lot more flexibility because of the depth we have down the middle.”

As expected, defensemen John Moore (shoulder) and Kevan Miller (knee) won’t be healthy to start the season. Forward Joakim Nordstrom (foot) had a setback during training and probably will also start the season on the sideline. The only two new faces expected on the roster Thursday will be forwards Brett Ritchie and Par Lindholm.

”Well I thought we were a successful team last year and we have a motivated group,” Sweeney said. ”We did feel like our depth and organizationally we’re going to continue to get stronger, so we feel that we have internal competition, we have players that can come up and do the job. We’ve been testing that over the last few years and had some success but also had some failures as well, and trying to learn from it.”

NOTES: Nothing has changed as far as the way the Bruins are being run since the Boston Globe reported last month that owner Jeremy Jacobs had passed on control of the team to his six children, team officials stressed Tuesday during a news conference. ”It’s been magnified and maybe misrepresented,” Jacobs said. ”There was a trust made recently that put the Bruin asset into a beneficiary so when I croak, it will be the next generation. Nothing has changed as far as positions and authority and responsibility. I still will be in the same position.” Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs, the youngest of the six children, confirmed that it’s been business as usual for the team. Two brothers, Louis and Jerry, are the only other offspring currently involved in the family business. ”But as for a decision-making process, most of our decisions are collaborative, unless of course our chairman has a thought, and of course we do what he tells us to do,” Charlie Jacobs said.

Same squad, same goal: Bruins want another shot at Cup

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BOSTON — The Boston Bruins didn’t sign a bunch of pricey free agents over the summer after barely missing out on a Stanley Cup championship last season.

Instead, they handed out extensions.

After going to the last possible game of the season, losing to the St. Louis Blues in Game 7 of the Cup final, the Bruins are bringing back essentially the same roster for another try at their second NHL title of the decade. Coach Bruce Cassidy got a new deal, as did defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo; captain Zdeno Chara received a one-year extension in March.

”It was a good year, we fell one game short and now we’ve got to work on getting back to that position and not falling one game short,” Cassidy said. ”We’re going to try to, like I said, deal with it and just get on with the season. … I hope we don’t have a hangover. I certainly don’t intend on having one.”

Cassidy took the Bruins to an Eastern Conference championship in just his second full season on the bench, thanks largely to a core of players from the team that won it all in 2011. And he’ll have the same nucleus this year: Chara on defense, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand at forward, and Tuukka Rask in net.

Joining Bergeron and Marchand on the most potent first line in hockey is David Pastrnak, with David Krejci centering the second line. The 42-year-old Chara will team up with the 21-year-old McAvoy on defense, with Torey Krug (who’s 28) and Carlo (22) as the No. 2 pairing.

The mix of youth and experience is one of the team’s strengths.

”Look at guys around the league in their 30s, they’re really good players. Look at our guys in their 30s, we all had a really good season last year,” Krejci said. ”We’re not a year older, we’re just a couple months older. So I feel like we’re in good shape and we’re ready to go.”

Last year’s team finished second in the Atlantic Division with 107 points, then got a break when it didn’t have to face Tampa Bay or Washington in the rest of the playoffs – or any other division winner, for that matter. After beating the 100-point Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games in the first round, the Bruins didn’t play another 100-point team.

They took out the Blue Jackets in six games and swept the Hurricanes, then beat the Blues 7-2 in Game 6 in St. Louis to force a seventh game at home. But they couldn’t solve Blues rookie Jordan Binnington in the decisive game, and St. Louis skated around the Boston ice with the Cup.

”You know what, I don’t think we’re over it, I don’t think I’m over it,” Bruins forward Sean Kuraly said. ”But you move on, you know you’ve got hockey to play and I think playing hockey will help.”

The Bruins also know they weren’t at their best in June, after Chara took a puck off his face and played the last three games of the Cup finals with his broken jaw wired shut. He also had an unspecified lower body injury that took him out of the fourth game of the conference finals.

That forced the team to improvise on defense, where Kevan Miller was also out with a broken kneecap for the entire postseason. On offense, Bergeron and Marchand were also dealing with injuries.

They’re counting on a healthier team to get them back in position for the Cup.

Here are some things to look for from the Bruins this season:

WHO’S HERE: F Brett Ritchie, F Par Lindholm.

WHO’S NOT: F Noel Acciari, F Marcus Johansson.

KEY PLAYERS: With his three-year deal, McAvoy is now the heir apparent to Chara as the team’s top defenseman for years to come. The line of Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak combined for 260 points in the regular season and 59 in the playoffs. Jake DeBrusk went from 16 goals in his rookie season to 27 last year. Rask played a six-year low of 46 games last year and is back in goal.

OUTLOOK: The Bruins are deep on defense, blending the aged Chara with players like McAvoy and Carlo. They have the most productive first line in hockey, but they are still looking for a second line right wing after finding no replacement for Johansson in the offseason. And then there are the injury issues that can beset an older team, chief among them Bergeron’s groin problem that has lingered into training camp.

PREDICTION: If Chara, Bergeron (34 years old) and Rask (32) can hold up, the Bruins can look forward to another long playoff run. They can’t count on other teams clearing out the Eastern Conference for them in the playoffs, though, so they’ll need to close the gap on Tampa Bay if they want to raise another banner in the new Boston Garden.

Bruins face plenty of salary cap pressure

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Boston Bruins. 

The Bruins have been a contender for quite some time in the NHL. Inevitably, that comes with the price tag of salary cap headaches.

On the bright side, they’re in a better spot than many of their peers. Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, and Brad Marchand don’t just comprise arguably the best all-around line in the NHL; they’re also all getting paid far less than market value. Those values are the headliners, yet they also have other team-friendly deals with Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, and Charlie Coyle.

Yet, as fair as it is that Don Sweeney won GM of the Year, he faces some tough work ahead — during the rest of this offseason, and also through the next one.

[MORE: 2018-19 in review | X-factor] | Three questions]

By Cap Friendly’s estimates, the Bruins have approximately $7.294M in cap space heading into 2019-20, but that number is misleading, because key RFA defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo still need to get paid.

Bruins legend and exec Cam Neely spoke of what Sweeney and the team are currently going through in an interview with NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty.

“Across the league, [negotiations with RFAs] has been like sweeping mud. Unfortunately, it’s still status quo [with Carlo and McAvoy],” Neely said. “The history since Don [Sweeney] has been here is that when we negotiate, we do it from a position of fairness. We do a lot of work at comps around the league and try to get a deal done that’s fair. We start with initial offers that are fair and that’s been no different with Brandon and Charlie.”

One can debate McAvoy’s value – he’s a star in my opinion, while the Bruins argue that injuries hurt his case – but the bottom line is that a defenseman of his caliber could eat up close to $7M alone, even without the (dubious) threat of offer sheets.

Recent history shows that the Bruins have deftly found ways to use their own limitations and leverage to get bargains. The dream is probably for McAvoy to sign the sort of relatively cheap bridge deal Torey Krug did, as Krug signed for just $5.25M per year when things were tight in 2016.

The downside of bridge deals is that they only buy you so much time, and the bill is coming for Krug, as he’s entering a contract year. So, beyond finding immediate answers for McAvoy and Carlo, the Bruins must also ponder their approach for 2020-21.

For all of Sweeney’s many wise decisions, contending teams feel the sting of mistakes.

  • David Backes struggles to even crack the top 12 forwards, and while his contract only lasts for two more seasons, it comes at the whopping cost of $6M. If his rugged career isn’t enough to eventually land him on LTIR, then he’s the biggest headache going forward. Maybe the expansion draft would save Boston, even if it meant bribing Seattle and convincing Backes to waive clauses?
  • John Moore would be another bribe case, although his $2.75M AAV lasts through 2022-23, which is tough to fathom.
  • Moving Kevan Miller seems the most doable, as his $2.5M cap hit expires after 2019-20.

Chances are, the Bruins will find a way, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Will they eventually need to wave goodbye to Charlie Coyle, whose bargain $3.2M cap hit evaporates after 2019-20? Could we see David Krejci trade rumors crop up again?

It’s one thing to get under the cap, yet the Bruins also want to contend, making this a challenging juggling act. To the Bruins’ credit, they’re at least not juggling chainsaws like peers who are in even bigger binds, but they’ll need to exhibit serious skill (and enjoy some serious luck) if they’ll end this exhibition with the crowd going wild.

MORE: ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

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.

Jets, Lightning still have big RFA challenges to deal with

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This year’s restricted free agent market has been one of the most intriguing ones we have seen in years. Not only is it loaded with players that already among the league’s best, but we already saw an offer-sheet come in when the Montreal Canadiens attempted to snag Sebastien Aho away from the Carolina Hurricanes. It was an offer that was quickly matched by the Hurricanes. As things stand on Saturday, Aho is the only one of those top RFA’s that has a new contract while Mikko Rantanen, Mitch Marner, Brayden Point, Patrick Laine, Charlie McAvoy, Zach Werenski, Brock Boeser, and Kyle Connor (among others) all remain unsigned, and will probably remain so for the foreseeable future.

Some of these situations will easily get resolved. The Avalanche have more salary cap space than any team in the league and no other significant contracts to work out, so while Rantanen will get a huge pay raise, the Avalanche have more than enough space to work it out. The same is true in Columbus with Werenski where they still have more than $15 million in cap space after their free agent exodus.

Beyond them, most of the focus with the RFA market has been pointed in Toronto’s direction where the Maple Leafs have to re-sign Marner and (hopefully) avoid a repeat of last year’s William Nylander situation. But for as complicated as the Marner contract has been and still might be, the Maple Leafs still have more than $10 million in LTIR contracts to stash at the start of the season with David Clarkson and Nathan Horton.

It is going to be difficult, but it may not even be the most difficult one in the league.

Here are four teams that might have might even more headaches to deal with.

Winnipeg Jets

Good news: The Jets have more salary cap space ($17 million) than all but one team in the league, which would seem to put them in a really good position under the cap.

Bad news: As of Saturday they only have 17 players under contract for the 2019-20 season (no other team in the league has less than 19) and have two major RFA’s in need of new deals in Laine and Connor.

Laine is already one of the NHL’s most lethal goal scorers and is coming off a 30-goal season that was universally considered to be a “down” year for him, while Connor has scored at least 30 goals himself two years in a row. There have only been 17 players to top the 30-goal mark in each of the past two seasons, and the Jets not only have two of them, but they are both in need of new contracts right now.

Unless one (or both) is willing to take a significant discount on their next deal the duo is likely to cost the Jets at least $14 million against the salary cap. Those two deals are going to eat up almost all of their remaining cap space while they still have to fill out a roster around them. Even with some free agent departures this summer the Jets are still in a position where they are going to have to do some juggling to keep their two best young players.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning already had one of the deepest forward groups in the league even before Brayden Point was one of the league’s big breakout stars during the 2018-19 season.

Now that he has joined their core of top-tier players, the time has come to pay him. The Lightning have roughly $5 million in salary cap space this summer, which will obviously not be enough to pay a 22-year-old winger coming off of a 40-goal, 90-point season whose best days are still ahead of him. They will be placing Ryan Callahan on LTIR, giving them another $5 million to work with and that will certainly help in the short-term. Point won’t be a $10 million player, but the Lightning also have an upcoming arbitration situation with Adam Erne and three more significant RFA’s next summer (starting goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, forward Anthony Cirelli, and defender Mikhail Sergachev). All of that is going to add up, and you have to wonder if it might make a forward like Alex Killorn (four more years at $4.45 million per season) expendable.

Vancouver Canucks

This is an underrated and overlooked nightmare situation. The Canucks three-highest paid players are Loui Eriksson, Tyler Myers, and a 33-year-old Alexander Edler (all making $6 million per year), while they also have around $14 million going to the quartet of Brandon Sutter, Tanner Pearson, Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle. A classic case of a bunch of small mistakes adding up to one big headache that hurts a team in trying to keep its stars. They only have $5 million in salary cap space to re-sign Boeser, their second best player and one of the best young snipers in the league. That is not enough. They need to move as many of the aforementioned contracts as they can, not only to help re-sign Boeser this summer, but to improve their long-term outlook as well.

Boston Bruins

The Bruins’ roster is almost entirely set for the 2019-20 season with two big exceptions: Defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. The Bruins have roughly $7 million in salary cap space to make it happen, but that is going to be tight. Like Werenski in Columbus, McAvoy has earned a substantial contract extension with his play. Carlo may not be a star, but he is a rock-solid defender that needs re-signed. Together, they might cost at least $10 million. Shedding one of David Backes, Charlie Coyle, Kevan Miller, or John Moore would help.

More NHL Offseason:
Bruins face salary cap juggling act with McAvoy, Carlo
Long-term contracts for depth players is usually losing move for NHL teams
Cap Crunch: Rangers, Penguins, Flames among teams that still need moves

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Bruins give Heinen two-year, $5.6 million extension

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The Boston Bruins didn’t make any splashes during free agency mainly because they had to focus on bringing back their own restricted free agents. Well, on Tuesday, they managed to sign one of those players to a new contract.

The team announced the signing of forward Danton Heinen to a two-year, $5.6 million extension. The two sides were scheduled to go to arbitration on Aug. 3, but that will no longer be necessary.

The Bruins drafted the 24-year-old in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Since then, he’s played two full seasons for Boston. He scored 16 goals and 47 points in 77 games during his rookie year, and 11 goals and 34 points in 77 games last season. He added two goals and eight points in 24 games during the Bruins’ run to the Stanley Cup Final last spring.

Heinen has the ability to slide up and down the lineup and he provides the Bruins with another depth scoring option.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

What does this mean for their current cap situation?

The Bruins now have just over $7.353 million in cap space remaining to sign RFAs Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. Clearly, that won’t be enough money to get both players signed, but the Bruins currently have 23 players on their active roster, which means they can send a couple of players to the minors to open up more space.

They currently have seven defenseman signed, so adding McAvoy and Carlo would bring them up to nine, which is way too many anyway. Steven Kampfer could head to the minors if everyone starts the season healthy. They could also opt to trade someone like Kevan Miller, too.

Unless injuries strike in training camp, the Bruins will have some tough decisions to make on their blue line (that’s a good problem).

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.