By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Bruins made their first move of the 2019 NHL offseason on Monday night, signing journeyman defenseman Steve Kampfer to a two-year extension worth $1.6 million ($800,000 per year).
A 5-foot-11 defender, Kampfer recorded three goals and three assists in 35 games for the Big B’s last season, and will stick with the Bruins after scoring one goal in his three postseason appearances during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The 30-year-old Kampfer even appeared in a 2019 Stanley Cup Final game, too, as he suited up in the team’s Game 5 loss to the Blues.
Here are three thoughts on the B’s decision to make Kampfer their first re-signing of the summer…
At the very least, it’s affordable depth
The Bruins are haunted by the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
I mean that in a good way, too.
A six-game postseason run that saw the Bruins go 10 deep into their organizational depth chart, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney is hellbent on never having to dress another Tommy Cross in playoff play ever again (though they certainly came close with a 2019 Stanley Cup Final played without Zdeno Chara and Matt Grzelcyk at one point, and without Kevan Miller for the entirety of their postseason run). Keeping Kampfer, a veteran of 201 NHL games, 35 of which came last season as the Black and Gold’s eighth defenseman, represents a steady fill-in Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy can trust in a pinch.
This is especially valuable when talking about a thinner right-side defense group featuring Kevan Miller (56 regular-season and 24 playoff games missed due to injury over the last two seasons), and pending RFAs Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo.
And at $800,000, the Bruins aren’t exactly breaking the bank to keep Kampfer in Boston.
Does this mean anything for B’s summertime trade plans?
I’m curious to see if there’s a cap-clearing move that follows this extension.
Now, the Bruins have just over $12 million in cap space following Kampfer’s extension, with Carlo and McAvoy headlining their list of free agents this summer. Danton Heinen is also a restricted free agent, and Bruins president Cam Neely has identified a top-six winger as a definite need for the Bruins. Kampfer’s extension does not change their needs or severely impact the Black and Gold’s ability to address those needs, both in house and external.
But it does make me wonder if there’s another move to follow.
The Bruins could very well carry eight defensemen for the third straight season. In fact, given the way their last few years have gone, you could argue that it’s perhaps their best move. Including Connor Clifton (more on him in a bit), the Bruins have a total $15.425 million of defensive cap hits on their 2019-20 books. That number could jump another $10 to 11 million dollars — perhaps even more — once Carlo and McAvoy are signed to new deals. And if the Bruins are truly determined to improve their top six as previously mentioned, a cut is likely going to have to come from somewhere. But David Backes’ contract has been considered “immovable.” Power-play quarterback Torey Krug is too valuable to lose for cap-clearing and nothing more.
So, does that change how the Bruins look at Miller (entering the final year of a $2.5 million per year contract) or Johnny Moore (on the hook for $2.75 million per season for the next four years) moving forward? Now, unfortunately for all involved, Miller is coming off a broken kneecap while Moore played through a broken humerus in the postseason. Trading either isn’t impossible, but it’s not exactly the easiest thing to do, and the optics of trading injured players who gave you their all is never good. It would be especially worrisome if the Bruins traded Moore just one year into his five-year deal and after he played (significantly) hurt.
But gaining over $2.5 million in cap space may very well be the difference to complete this team’s summer to-do list.
Bruins want kids playing big minutes in the A
I must admit, my first reaction to this signing was a simple one: Why?
After all, the Bruins have Connor Clifton in the pipeline, and the 24-year-old Clifton played in 37 games for the Big B’s last season between the regular season and postseason. Jeremy Lauzon, though a left shot, appeared in 16 games a year ago and is considered ‘the next man up’ on Boston’s blue line. And then there’s Urho Vaakanainen, the 2018 first-round pick who nearly drew into a 2019 Stanley Cup Final contest. Overextending yourself for a veteran journeyman seemed like an odd move, but the Bruins clearly want the kids playing big minutes in the AHL, and not sitting as the designated eighth defenseman who only draws in for eight-minute quickies to keep the legs fresh and/or if everything’s gone to hell.
Kampfer is a better option for that role, and is highly experienced when it comes to being just that. With Clifton, you’d worry that too many consecutive games off would spell trouble for his game, which is based largely off his instincts and timing (things that are only truly at their best with repetition and on-ice experience) and the others are too good to sit as a No. 8.
If they’re not going to be in Boston, it’s not going to be because Kampfer’s role held them back.