By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Bruins are in Toronto. And Ondrej Kase, a player the Bruins acquired from the Ducks (and in exchange for a first-round pick) to ride to David Krejci's right on their second line, is not.
That, at this stage of the game's Return-To-Play plan, is troublesome.
Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy, meanwhile, remains a man without any sort of timeline for getting Kase back in action.
“We’re hoping to get Ondrej back at some point," Cassidy offered on Tuesday when asked about his right-side behind David Pastrnak. "But obviously he won’t participate [in Thursday's exhibition game against the Blue Jackets]. Who knows beyond that right now.”
That, again, is troublesome.
It's enough to make you think we're rapidly approaching a lost summer for the player B's general manager Don Sweeney hoped would be part of the solution to Boston's middle six.
It's been over four months since Kase last played in a meaningful hockey game. Mar. 10 was his last game, to be exact. Of course, that's also the case for every NHL player reporting to the Edmonton and Toronto. So they're all working behind schedule.
But Kase is working from what feels like 10 miles behind schedule.
Let's start with the fact that he wasn't in town for Phase 2 of the league's four-phase return plan. He opted to stay home. That's fine. Phase 2 was to be conducted in small-group sessions without contact, and teams couldn't tell players they had to report. It was completely voluntary. I mean, coaches and general managers were not even allowed to be on the ice or have face-to-face interactions with the players. So you actually can't get mad at Kase for deciding that he wanted to remain home in the Czech Republic.
Buuuuuuut, you can bring up the fact that Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara felt that returning to Warrior Ice Arena for Phase 2 was worth their time. And if it's worth it to guys who know absolutely everything there is to know about the organization, it's certainly worth it to a man who played all of six games with the club.
That didn't happen though, and it was on to Phase 3.
That came and went with Kase on the ice for just one skate with the Bruins. That wasn't even on a practice day, either, as it was a maintenance day for the majority of the team's NHL regulars. And let's make it clear: Nobody in the organization needed Phase 3 more than Kase. Nobody. Given his unfamiliarity with the team, his own health concerns, and his lack of a solidified fit on the roster, a two-week training camp was a freakin' gift from the clouds. But his return to Boston came at what felt like the absolute last minute and his mandatory quarantine bled into some on-ice days of Phase 3 (Bruins president Cam Neely made it pretty clear that he wasn't thrilled with that), he was spotted out at non-team facilities, and then his (probable) exposure to somebody who tested positive for COVID-19 put him back on the team's "unfit to participate" list.
And while you understand the troubles of trying to play through a global pandemic, that series of events just can't happen. It can't. Not if you're going to be a legitimate factor for the Bruins in the postseason, which was certainly the plan.
But missing the team charter to Toronto as a result of his latest required self-quarantine is the real kick in the Kases.
Not only has Kase missed two practices in the secure zone -- and with increased contact drills set for this week's continued ramp-up -- but he's subject to a four-day quarantine in his hotel room upon his arrival to Toronto. That, as of this moment, rules him out for Thursday's exhibition contest, and unless he arrives in Toronto on Wednesday, the first of the Bruins' three round-robin tournament contests (Aug. 2 against the Flyers). Even if he arrived Wednesday, he'd enter that game with zero practices to his name, so that's not happening. Keep in mind that Kase has participated in one "practice" in general since Mar. 11, and that timeline sets you up for what seems like a best case scenario situation appearance in Boston's third and final round-robin affair. Again, that's best case scenario.
(Do you see the time just dwindling away here? And rapidly?)
He'll likely have to earn a playoff spot while the Bruins find themselves in a series. That's not impossible. In fact, he's likely to be the first one in if and when Cassidy shuffles the lineup. But hard practices are often at a premium during this stretch, and given the varying start times and lack of quality ice availability, you'd expect that to be especially true in 2020. That's no easy feat for a roster fixture. Let alone a player with just 87 minutes of experience in the organization.
Cassidy didn't downplay that potential uphill battle facing Kase upon his eventual return to the team either.
"Ondrej came late," Cassidy said. "He came at the deadline. So he’s building [a trust factor with the team]. It’s not a negative. I just don’t know the player well enough right now. He only had a handful of games to integrate himself with the group and try to develop chemistry; we tried him with Krejci at first and then moved him around, so that would be an interesting one.
"Let's just say it’s [Jack Studnicka] or [Anders] Bjork that takes off and Ondrej is not ready, and they've strung together five, six or seven games and played a round, I’d have to seriously consider making a change to a guy I’ve seen more of. But those are things you decide down the road. There may be other situations that come up -- injuries or whatever -- and Ondrej gets his chance then.
"It wouldn’t be an automatic that I'd put Ondrej in if one of the young kids was playing well.”
Cassidy, of course, noted the hypothetical nature of that situation.
But it's only a hypothetical because the Bruins find themselves five days away from the start of their Cup quest and with Kase a border (in a pandemic) away and with just one team skate to his name in the last four months.
Sports Hub Sidelines Podcast
We discussed the Kase situation and plenty more with the Bruins in the latest episode of the Sports Hub Sidelines podcast, plus much more. Have a listen below.
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.