By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Boston Bruins entered their bye week on a somewhat sour note, with losses in three of their final four games, and with a 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers coming as the final pre-bye blow this past Saturday night at TD Garden.
But it can’t be considered a total loss for the Bruins, as Bruce Cassidy’s squad remained in the Atlantic Division playoff structure upon their rest, with 59 points and undeniably paced with the rest of the pack below the juggernaut Lightning.
Here are 13 assorted and random thoughts on this season to date and what’s ahead for the Black and Gold…
1. If you’re anything even close to a smart person, you’re hoping the concussion suffered by Tuukka Rask, the second sustained by Rask since 2017, last Saturday isn’t anything serious (a la Corey Crawford in Chicago).
Since Nov. 1, Rask has posted an 11-5-3 record, but sits atop the NHL with a .925 save percentage and 2.22 goals against average among goaltenders with at least 20 appearances over that span. This has almost gone hand in hand with a severe cooldown on the part of Jaroslav Halak (a 5-6-0 record and .894 save percentage over the last two months).
But then again, if you’ve failed to notice this swing, it’s probably because you’re too busy constantly bitching about every single goal Rask allows to even notice how few and far between those very things have been of late, so I should know better.
2. Is there a word to properly describe the Bruins’ pre-bye season?
Does ‘enough’ work?
Asked to be a survivalist team for the majority of the season due to injuries on the backend, it’s clear the Bruins have another level to their game, and now that they’re considerably healthy (again, Rask is the one to watch here), you should see it.
Strike that, you need to see it.
That’s because the schedule gets a bit more difficult (and moves away from TD Garden) down the stretch, and ‘enough’ won’t get the job done if this team wants anything close to a favorable first-round playoff matchup come mid-April.
3. Soured on Danton Heinen? Can’t blame you.
Heinen has been among the Black and Gold’s bigger disappointments this season, with just six goals and 13 points through 47 games in what was supposed to be a breakout year following 2017-18’s 47-point year. When you watch Heinen this season, it’s just clear that his o-zone confidence is just absolutely nowhere to be found (see: not shooting the damn puck when in all alone between the circles). The only good news regarding Heinen’s situation is that the Bruins have no shortage of players to plug in his spot, be it Ryan Donato, Peter Cehlarik, Joakim Nordstrom, or somebody from Providence (Ryan Fitzgerald comes to mind).
4. One reason not to quit on Heinen just yet: his struggles this year have certainly knocked some dollars off his price-tag, and his trade value has never been lower.
This is a mistake that the Bruins previously made with Reilly Smith in 2015 when they decided to trade him to Florida (for Jimmy Hayes — woof) after a dropoff of a year that included an 11-point dip and a nearly five percent drop in his shooting percentage. Smith, now with the Vegas Golden Knights, has since responded with the 20th-most points among NHL right wingers over the last four seasons.
Hell, you could argue that the Bruins made the same mistake with then-24-year-old Brett Connolly in the immediate aftermath of the Smith misstep, too.
After trying to fit Connolly into a top-six role for entirely too long, the Bruins opted not to tender Connolly a qualifying offer, letting him instead hit the free agent market.
He’s since properly slotted into a bottom-six role with the Capitals (he recorded six goals and nine points in Washington’s 24-game run to a Stanley Cup last season), recorded back-to-back career-highs of 15 goals in his first two seasons with the Capitals, and is paced to shatter his career-high in both goals and points this season. Oh, here’s another stat to chew on: Among NHL forwards with at least 1,900 minutes of five-on-five play over the last three seasons, Connolly ranks 13th in all of hockey in both goals (0.97) and points (2.00) per 60 minutes.
Sometimes it’s all about knowing the right fit for a young player.
And sometimes it’s worth it to live through a young player’s struggles and down years.
I’d like to think Heinen is smart enough to figure it out (he’s legitimately a year removed from being a go-to on the third line), and that the B’s are (now) smart enough to know where they can and cannot slot a player to maximize his impact.
5. Happy to admit that I was very wrong about Chris Wagner. The Walpole, Mass. native has been a definite jolt of life on Boston’s fourth line with Noel Acciari and Sean Kuraly, and is on pace to set some new career-highs across the board. He hasn’t strayed from being an annoying, hard-hitting talent, either. After hitting a homer with Tim Schaller for two seasons, maybe this is Don Sweeney’s secret talent: finding local bangers that can make the most of their hometown opportunity on the fourth line.
6. This is not a team-centered thought, but I miss having a Bruins podcast. Sitting on the sidelines this much really isn’t much fun, I have a lot of things to say, and I would like to think I’m somewhat entertaining. So what do you say we fire that up sometime soon?
7. Back to the goaltending for a minute…
One of the common questions of late has been a simple “What’s wrong with Halak?”
Rather than delve into an unnecessary film study that points out that he shouldn’t let grounders from 60-feet away dribble in, I’ll just tell you that this… is who he is, really. Having watched entirely too many Isle games over the last few years, Halak was always a goaltender that would look unbeatable one night but incapable of stopping a beachball the next. Keep in mind that this is a goaltender that went unclaimed on waivers as recently as two years ago, and was not in the market for a starting job this past offseason in a market considerably thin on legit goaltending options. He is what he is.
What the Bruins have gotten out of him to this point has been nothing short of fantastic, sure, but those that viewed him as the answer are quickly learning the truth, I’d hope.
8. Friendly reminder that the Bruins gain almost nothing from a David Backes buyout in 2019. Buy him out next summer and the Bruins will gain less than $350,000 in cap space in 2019-20 and just $2.3 million in cap space the following season. For a team that has a ton of big entry-level deals coming off the books, there’s no way to possibly justify $5.6 million of dead cap on their books in 2019-20 and $3.6 million of dead cap the season after. In other words, the Bruins are gonna have to attach a pick or prospect to get a team to bite on that contract, which has Backes at a $6 million hit through 2021.
9. The Bruins are among the teams that have shown an interest in Hurricanes forward Micheal Ferland. Pass. Pass. Pass. Given his versatility and status as a player that can score and play a physical game, the Hurricanes are believed to be seeking a first-round pick and a prospect for Ferland. If the Bruins are going to part with a first-round pick for the second year in a row, it has to be for a player with more natural goal-scoring upside than Ferland. Also: Spend a first-round pick on a center, not a middle-six winger.
10. Players I would certainly consider moving a first-round pick for: Brayden Schenn. Not only does Schenn fill a need for the Bruins as a center with wing capabilities, but he’s also under contract at a reasonable $5.125 million through 2020.
11. For all the bellyaching about we’ve done about Sweeney (guilty as charged, I admit), you have to think it’s a whole lot better than the alternative of Peter Chiarelli. My Word, what an absolute mess they have going on in Edmonton.
To recap their latest disaster week in Edmonton: The Oilers are signing Mikko Koskinen (a 30-year-old goaltender with 31 games of NHL experience and a career save percentage of a whopping .905) to a three-year deal worth $4.5 million per year. They also put Ryan Spooner on waivers just two months after trading for him. Keep in mind that they parted with Ryan Strome to get Spooner from the Rangers, meaning that the Oilers officially have nothing to show for trading Jordan Eberle (36 goals and 82 points in 125 games since being traded out of town).
Connor McDavid, a generational talent, is probably another boneheaded Chiarelli move away from retiring at 22.
12. Have you seen enough from Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson to lead you to believe that he could be the Black and Gold’s solution in the middle of line three? The ice-time and the usage has increased of late, but do you trust him? Does Cassidy trust him? I honestly don’t know. There’s still a part of me that thinks the Bruins are going to try and leverage JFK into a deal to reunite him with BU-turned-Rangers coach David Quinn and bring Kevin Hayes into the Boston picture.
That’s some heavy specualtion on my behalf, I admit, but I know the Bruins have been hot for Hayes for a little bit here, and he would make a ton of sense for them somewhere in their middle six. (It’ll take a lot more than JFK to get the Blueshirts to bite on that deal, especially with some other Cup contenders looking at help down the middle, namely the Winnipeg Jets.)
13. The loss of Anders Bjork to another season-ending shoulder injury is a tough one to swallow for the Bruins. Not only does he leave the Bruins down one more insurance policy in a year defined by injuries (I’ll stand by the idea that Bjork got a raw NHL deal this season), but he was probably one of the B’s more attractive trade options entering the deadline. Back to square one of rebuilding his value, be it for your team or as a trade chip.