By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Boston Bruins are all in on John Tavares.
But if we’re playing the odds honestly, there’s an 84 percent chance that the Bruins will be let down. That’s something that Bruins general manager Don Sweeney has to prepare himself for, maybe not to the media but within his own office at least, unless he thinks it’ll be a good idea to sit with his head buried in his hands when the start of free agency opens on Sunday.
Sweeney himself has acknowledged that the Bruins will have other needs on the roster to address, too. From Tuukka Rask’s next backup to David Krejci’s right winger to depth on the left side, there’s simply no shortage of needs on the B’s roster.
Here are some names that could be of interest to the Bruins.
Petr Mrazek (Goalie, Detroit Red Wings/Philadelphia Flyers)
If Anton Khudobin has indeed priced himself out of a return to Boston, the Bruins are most definitely going to need to scour the market for a suitable backup. There’s some noteworthy names out there, sure, but with most of the high-end goalies seemingly spoken for, there’s a great chance that Sweeney is going diving in the bargain bin.
That’s where the Bruins should be able to find 26-year-old netminder Petr Mrazek, too.
Let’s not hide from the fact that 2017-18 was a nightmare for Mrazek: In a 33-start season split between the Red Wings and Flyers (the latter traded a draft pick to acquire him before the deadline), Mrazek managed just 14 wins and a .902 save percentage. And of those 33 starts, only 11 finished as what you would qualify as a ‘quality start.’
But he’s still young, and there’s probably still something salvageable within his game. One of just 42 goalies to play at least 100 games over the last three seasons, Mrazek has shown an ability to be a 1B option when his game is on, and has experienced some postseason success, with four wins and a .931 save percentage in 10 playoff games as a starter. (UPDATE: Mrazek is likely out as an option after the Bruins signed Jaroslav Halak to a two-year deal.)
9. Calvin de Haan (Defense, New York Islanders)
If the Bruins are not going to hit a home run on their backend and acquire a legitimate top four defenseman, they should at least shore up their left-side depth with a player like the Islanders’ Calvin de Haan.
Though limited to just 33 games this past season because of an upper-body injury, de Haan checked in with one goal and 11 assists. The 6-foot-1 defender and 12th overall pick from 2009 also recorded back-to-back 190-plus blocked shot seasons before this injury-shortened campaign, and averaged 2:07 of shorthanded time on ice per game over the last three seasons,
The season-ending injury could help the Bruins save some money on de Haan, too, which cannot be discounted when you’re talking about a defenseman that straight-up won’t play if Matt Grzelcyk continues to play like he did a year ago.
8. James Neal (Winger, Vegas Golden Knights)
Here’s a fun fact: James Neal has been a 20-goal scorer in every single season of his National Hockey League career. Even in the 48-game lockout-delayed 2013 season, Neal hit the 20-goal mark. Now, and after back-to-back trips to the Stanley Cup Final (2017 in Nashville and 2018 with Vegas), Neal hits the open market. A winger with size and the ability to play both the left and right side, Neal would be a perfect fit for the Bruins’ middle-six winger issues. The biggest problem: It’s believed that Neal is seeking a six-year, $42 million contract on the open market. That is likely too rich for the B’s blood.
Now, if the Bruins were able to dump a heavy contract first, Neal could be worth it. But even then, it’s a likely pass.
7. Derek Ryan (Center, Carolina Hurricanes)
If Riley Nash is indeed walking out that door, the Bruins could find a suitable bottom-six center in Carolina’s Derek Ryan, a signing that could surely fly under the radar much like Nash-to-Boston did in 2016. A right-shot center, Ryan recorded a career-high 15 goals, 23 assists, and 38 points in (another career-high) 80 contests for the ‘Canes. But Ryan was especially impressive at the faceoff dot, where he posted a 56.5 percentage, good for the 8th-best mark in the entire NHL. (For additional context there, Bergeron was just two spots ahead of Ryan, with a 57.3 faceoff percentage.)
But the rumor out there is that the 31-year-old is bound for Calgary, where he will reunite with ex-Canes coach Bill Peters.
6. Thomas Hickey (Defense, New York Islanders)
You know it’s a bad class for defensemen when we’re talking about Thomas Hickey as the best option on the open market. Hickey’s really only here because if the Bruins are going to legitimately spend on a left-side defender, Hickey’s upside makes more sense and is infinitely more worth it than say Luca Sbisa, Jason Garrison, or Tobias Enstrom.
That’s pretty much all I have to say about this class.
5. Tobias Rieder (Winger, Arizona Coyotes/Los Angeles Kings)
Here’s an interesting nugget: Among all forwards with at least 90 minutes of shorthanded time on ice, it was Tobias Rieder that was on the ice for the fewest scoring chances against, at 61. A left-shot winger that spent his 2017-18 campaign with the Coyotes and Kings, the 25-year-old’s versatility would be a perfect addition to a Boston bottom six that can always use more.
4. Thomas Vanek (Winger, Vancouver Canucks/Columbus Blue Jackets)
The Bruins missed out on Ilya Kovalchuk, and assuming Rick Nash is serious about retiring, Thomas Vanek makes the most sense as a one-year stopgap to try and slot somewhere on the right side of Boston’s lineup. Yes, Vanek has slowed down, and he’s one of those players that looks ridiculously good or borderline unplayably bad. But if we’re talking strictly one-year options, and talking one-year options with the 34-year-old Nash off the table, it’s hard to find a better option than Vanek.
The 34-year-old was actually pretty damn good a season ago, too. Beginning his year in Vancouver, Vanek recorded 17 goals and 41 points in 61 games with the Canucks. Vanek remained an effective power-play presence in Van City, too, with four power-play goals and 14 total power-play points. But Vanek actually remained a productive talent even following yet another trade to a new city, with seven goals and 15 points in 19 games with the Blue Jackets.
Most of all, though, was how Vanek utilized his five-on-five ice-time properly to be among the league’s best. (No, seriously!)
With 18 goals and 37 points in over 900 five-on-five minutes, Vanek’s primary points (goals or first assists) per 60 minutes of hockey was a staggering 2.12. That was actually the 10th best mark among all skaters with at least 900 five-on-five minutes. Some of the names better than him in this regard? Boston wingers David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, the Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin, Nikita Kucherov, Nathan MacKinnon, Austin Matthews, and Connor McDavid. Not the worst company, to be honest.
(It would also keep Vanek from killing the Bruins for like six goals and 11 points in four head-to-heads next season.)
3. Riley Nash (Center/Winger, Boston Bruins)
People massively undersold the importance of Riley Nash to the Bruins. Not only was Nash the straw that stirred the drink of the Bruins’ bottom six forward corps, but he also proved to be a solid fill-in for Patrice Bergeron when called upon. That is… not easy. Of course, it makes sense for Nash to finally get paid, but what exactly does that mean? About $4 million per year? That’s something that may make sense for the Bruins if there’s some sort of concession on Nash’s part regarding the deal’s length (think for two or three years instead of four to five). He’s never going to wow you with highlight reel goals, of course, but stability is not the worst thing in the world. Especially as you continue to infuse youth into your lineup.
2. Paul Stastny (Center, St. Louis Blues/Winnipeg Jets)
If the Bruins have circled Tavares, it’s for more than the fact that he’s a legitimate superstar. It’s also because they view center as a potentially pressing need for their club moving forward. So, if you swing and miss on No. 91, why not turn your attention towards the second-best pivot on the open market: Paul Stastny? Now, Stastny is more of a luxury than anything else — and there’s a good chance he re-ups with the Jets — but if hits the open market, he could be worth the gamble for the B’s.
Keep in mind that the Bruins are obsessed with their depth down the middle. They consider it to be the nucleus of their success. And also remember that David Backes was originally brought to Boston to form a three-headed monster down the middle that saw him as the third option behind Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. That did not work out, and it won’t in ’18.
Stastny should also come in at a little below his latest cap hit ($7 million per season), but his consistency could put him out of the Black and Gold’s range when it comes to the years they would have to commit to him.
1. Michael Grabner (Winger, New York Rangers/New Jersey Devils)
Over the last two seasons, Michael Grabner ranks as the 35th-highest goal-scorer in the NHL with 54 goals in 156 games.
But only seven players have scored more even-strength goals than Michael Grabner’s 51 over that span. (Brad Marchand, for what it’s worth, is among that group of seven above him.) But what’s truly fascinating about Grabner is that he’s remained a ridiculously potent goal scorer while not contributing a power-play goal since the 2012-13 season.
That is absurdly impressive or impressively absurd.
It’s also something that the Bruins could certainly use, especially to the right of David Krejci on their second line.
Set to join his fifth different team since 2014, and turning 31 year sold in October, it’s hard to envision a situation in which Grabner breaks the B’s bank, too, in either years or dollars. That should make him all the more appealing.
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.