By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
With July officially upon us, and the National Hockey League less than two weeks away from their expected move into Phase 3 training camp, Bruce Cassidy and the Boston Bruins are putting together their list of skaters to bring back to Boston.
"Looks like it’ll be 30 skaters," Cassidy offered during a Monday conference with the media. "I don’t know if that’s been confirmed yet. We have a list of 28 and 30 [skaters] because I knew those were the two numbers, plus four goaltenders."
With such a roster size, the Bruins will be able to survey all possible roster options, all their lineup combinations, and find out who will need to be the first (or fifth, even) player summoned into action in the event of injuries, inconsistencies, or a COVID-19 outbreak. Oh, and this coaching staff will also look to reinstall the program that made the B's the best team in the NHL.
In other words, this is truly September's training camp all over again.
"I think the message for us hasn't changed in terms of what our ultimate goal is: Our unfinished business is to be Stanley Cup champions," said Cassidy. "But inside of that message will be a lot of the unknowns and how we have to be prepared to deal with that as it comes at us."
It's the kind of task that'd honestly require 40 eyes in this accelerated ramp-up, but it's hand the league has been dealt in its attempt to crown a 2020 Stanley Cup champion.
And with decision time looming, here's my best stab at predicting the complete group the B's will bring to Warrior for Phase 3 beginning July 10...
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - David Pastrnak
This is the only guarantee that the Bruins have up front. This line was its ridiculously excellent self prior to the pause, scoring 107 of Boston's 227 total goals (47.1 percent) prior to the pause. This line will be the most important to watch in 2020, too. We've made so much of the "revenge tour" vibes following last year's Game 7 loss, and a lot of that comes back to the first line, which was a beaten and battered mess by the end of last year's postseason; Bergeron had a groin ailment, Pastrnak re-broke his thumb, and Marchand injured his hand in the team's pre-Cup intrasquad scrimmage. Just a complete nightmare scenario. If they're healthy and productive this time around, however, you have to love the B's chances.
Nick Ritchie - David Krejci - Ondrej Kase
This was Cassidy's second line when the league pressed paused on Mar. 12. Not sure if this line sticks for the postseason, but I'd expect it to remain the team's second line out of the gate. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Ritchie, who has spent quarantine on his family's horse farm in Ontario, scored one goal and added an assist in his seven games with the Bruins. Kase, meanwhile, recorded just one assist in his six-game run, but skated over 18 minutes in Boston's road win against the Bolts on Mar. 3. (I think the Bruins remain more committed to creating a Krejci-Kase fit than a Ritchie-Krejci fit, but we'll see.)
Sean Kuraly - Charlie Coyle - Jake DeBrusk
This was another line the Bruins had created just prior to the pause. Not sure if it sticks for the restart, but the Coyle-Kuraly combo actually showed some promise when paired together this season. In 93 minutes of five-on-five action together, the Coyle-Kuraly tandem has helped generate 21 high-danger scoring chances.
There was a lot to like about this season as a whole, but Coyle's ability to work with countless players and still be the same puck-possession mismatch for third lines and third pairings was an incredibly important weapon to the Bruins. It was often the body blow that set up an uppercut from the first line. Put him with the right high-motor players and Boston should have another postseason of solid contributions from his line.
Joakim Nordstrom - Par Lindholm - Chris Wagner
There's no shortage of options when it comes to assembling the B's fourth line. This, exactly like the second and third lines, is what they assembled at the time of the season's pause.
Scratches: Anders Bjork, Anton Blidh
Bjork remains an interesting case for the Bruins. From the start of his season through Jan. 13, the 23-year-old Bjork totaled seven goals, 14 points, and 51 shots on goal in 39 games. But Bjork dipped from there, scoring just two goals and five points (and with 15 shots on goal) in 19 games. Bjork was also scratched in four of the team's final five games before the pandemic.
Blidh, who totaled 20 hits and five blocks in seven games with the Big B's this season, will likely be the first one thrown into action should the fourth line find themselves in need of some added snarl.
Reserves: Paul Carey, Trent Frederic, Karson Kuhlman, Zach Senyshyn, Jack Studnicka.
The Jack Studnicka Hype Train arrived early into this pandemic. So much so that it wouldn't necessarily shock me to see him thrown into action for one of the B's round-robin tournament contests to see if there's more to be discovered in the now. Scoring a team-leading 23 goals and 49 points in 60 games with Providence this year (and an assist in his two-game NHL cameo), Studnicka consistently wowed P-Bruins head coach Jay Leach.
"Studnicka had a terrific year," Leach said. "21-year-old kid jumps right in, plays every real scenario. Down the stretch, I was really leaning on him and Cameron Hughes as the guys to seal some games out for us. His competitiveness, his speed, his hockey sense really shone through and was able to be very productive on both sides of the puck and I think he had a terrific year."
A victim of a numbers game and health issues in 2019-20, expect Kuhlman to hang around as a potential option for the Bruins as well. The 24-year-old scored one goal and six points in his 25-game run with the B's this season, and appeared in eight postseason contests for the Bruins last spring, scoring a goal (in the Stanley Cup Final) and two points.
The P-Bruins' captain, the 30-year-old Carey brings another experienced body to camp and break in case of emergency option, with 100 NHL games to his name. It helps that the Boston native is local, too meaning the Bruins aren't exactly asking him to come halfway across the world to practice. Frederic, meanwhile, could be an option should a 'heavier' series come the B's way.
(If the number is 28 and not 30, I'd probably expect Senyshyn to be the one forward left behind.)
Zdeno Chara - Charlie McAvoy
The Chara-McAvoy pairing was one of just seven NHL d-pairings to log at least 800 five-on-five minutes during the regular season. They had the best on-ice goal differential of that group of seven, too, at plus-16. Expand this time on ice minimum to 600 minutes (giving you 27 qualified pairings) and the Chara-McAvoy one-two punch is one of just seven pairings to post an expected goals against per 60 under two in 2019-20. They've been a force in the d-zone for the B's.
Torey Krug - Brandon Carlo
Will this be Torey Krug's last hurrah with the Bruins? He hopes not. But with the cap expected to stay flat for the 2020-21 season, the Bruins are going to have to get creative if they want to keep their power-play dynamo beyond this run.
Matt Grzelcyk - Jeremy Lauzon
The right side of this pairing feels like a toss-up given the way Cassidy rotated guys in and out down the stretch, but Jeremy Lauzon was emerging as the clear No. 6 defenseman when the Bruins stopped skating the first time around. A left-shot defender capable of playing the right side without any noticeable issues, Lauzon has tallied just one goal and an assist in 19 games with the Big B's this year, but logged the sixth-most shorthanded time on ice (19:43) on the team from Feb. 15 through the pause. The Bruins were clearly happy with what he was giving them as their left-side penalty-killing D behind Chara.
Scratches: John Moore, Connor Clifton.
There's a definite comfort in knowing the Bruins have this level of experience as backup options.
Reserves: Steven Kampfer, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril.
Part of me wonders if the Bruins would go with 18 forwards and 12 defensemen given their rather terrible luck on the backend over the last few postseasons, but there's honestly no way I could possibly envision Alex Petrovic or Wiley Sherman suiting up for the Bruins even if things got dire, so going with 11 d-men for this camp seems to make the most sense.
Tuukka Rask, Jaroslav Halak
This duo was the best in the NHL during the regular season, becoming just the third tandem in franchise history to capture the William Jennings Trophy, and first to win it since Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez in 2008-09. I really wanna see these guys split the round-robin evenly, too, given each goaltender's feast-or-famine track record.
Reserves: Max Lagace, Daniel Vladar.
Vladar will come to Boston on the heels of posting the AHL's best save percentage (.936) and goals against average (1.79) in 25 appearances for the P-Bruins in 2019-20. Lagace, meanwhile, posted a 22-7-3 record with a .919 save percentage and 2.37 goals against average. Lagace has appeared in 17 career NHL games (all with the Vegas Golden Knights).
It's important to note that with no limitation on the number of goaltenders you can bring to camp, the Bruins could bring Kyle Keyser into the mix if they'd like. But injuries limited him to just seven games between Providence and ECHL Atlanta in 2019-20. Cassidy also noted that he doesn't believe U-Maine goaltender Jeremy Swayman, signed by the Bruins shortly into the pandemic after a Hobey Baker caliber year, would be eligible to join the team.