Nick and Connor discuss John Tavares signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Crosby/Malkin vs. Tavares/Matthews argument, best and worst free agency signings and more. At this point, we’re also strangely optimistic about the St. Louis Blues.
The Original Trio splices together some thoughts on the 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame Inductees, Dan Bylsma, the 2018 Draft, recent trades and John Tavares. Go check out your local museums while you’re at it. It’s the offseason, surely you have nothing going on.
Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Boston Bruins and their outlook for the summer.
The Boston Bruins are ahead of schedule. They weren’t supposed to finish 2nd in the Atlantic Division this season according to most experts. They weren’t supposed to get 50 wins or 112 points, but the 50-20-12 record 2017-18 Bruins made it all the way to the Second Round against the Tampa Bay Lightning after defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games.
Boston won Game 1.
Then it all came to a screeching halt, the Bruins lost four straight and were eliminated.
But fear not, for Bruce Cassidy‘s system is working and General Manager Don Sweeney has a plan. They weren’t supposed to be this good, this soon, but it all fits the bill of winning the Cup within Cassidy’s first three years at a time when Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy, Danton Heinen and Co. emerge as the future core behind Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Zdeno Chara.
For the entire roster, it was just one more lesson in experience. The postseason is an entirely different animal from regular season action.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
Since then, the Bruins GM has indicated he’d like to get in on the deep first round action if he can, amid speculation that Boston is in the running for Ilya Kovalchuk, David Backes could be traded and more.
Pending free agents
Boston has almost $7.500 million in cap space available currently with the cap ceiling expected to rise perhaps by as much as $4.000 or $5.000 million, Sweeney still cannot afford to hand out long term contracts with a lot of value willy-nilly.
He did, however, just re-sign defender Matt Grzelcyk to a cap friendly two-year, $2.800 million ($1.400 million AAV) extension late last week and no it does not mean that Torey Krug is going to be traded. Signing 2017 first round pick, Urho Vaakanainen to his maximum term, maximum value entry-level contract doesn’t mean Krug is gone either– let alone that Vaakanainen will be on the NHL roster this October.
The Finnish blueliner has to really earn a spot on the Bruins defense this fall. Otherwise things are just going as planned with Vaakanainen’s development and he’ll be fine in Providence (AHL) for a season (at most).
Pending-UFAs Brian Gionta, 39, Kenny Agostino, 26, and Paul Postma, 29, already know they won’t be back in black-and-gold next season, leaving Riley Nash, 29, Tommy Wingels, 30, Rick Nash, 34, and Tim Schaller, 27 as the only pending UFA skaters on the NHL roster (ignoring Austin Czarnik, 25, and the fact that Agostino and Postma were with the Providence Bruins before season’s end, though all three– Czarnik, Agostino and Postma– played with Boston in relief appearances).
Sweeney is in the hunt for Kovalchuk and if it comes down to it, he’ll either sign the 35-year-old scorer looking to rejoin the NHL after a five-year journey to the KHL or re-sign 34-year-old Rick Nash– provided the 34-year-old Nash is still on the market.
It’s a bit of a standoff for the services of a sniper. One that’s almost guaranteed (Kovalchuk) and the other that had a small, injured, sample size already in a Bruins uniform (Nash).
The other Nash, Riley Nash, could get a pay raise elsewhere if the numbers don’t work out in Boston and I’ve already hinted at why *shameless self plug*.
Boston needs a second line winger. Whether it’s Rick Nash or Ilya Kovalchuk doesn’t matter. There’s already a youth movement going on and Mark Recchi played until he was 43 on the Bruins 2011 Stanley Cup champion roster.
Don’t worry about one player– who’s still contributing– getting old. Worry about entire rosters.
Outside of Boston’s core (Bergeron’s turning 33 this July), Sweeney’s roster is filled to the brim with youth.
Wingels could see another go-around on the Bruins fourth line if Sweeney deals Backes’s $6.000 million cap hit elsewhere and brings back Schaller. The latter forward (Schaller) had his best career season with 12 goals and 10 assists (22 points) in 82 games played, while Wingels contributed with grit and the occasional surprise goal on the fourth line.
What’s more important for Boston’s fourth line skaters is the return of pending-RFA, Sean Kuraly.
The 25-year-old center could play on the third line at times, despite only notching 6-8–14 totals in his first full season of NHL action (75 games). Despite his offensive shortcomings, the Bruins shouldn’t give up on Kuraly with guys like Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Trent Frederic breathing down his neck for a bottom-6 forward role on the 2018-19 squad.
Kuraly had two clutch goals in the short-lived 12-game 2018 postseason run.
Pending UFA-defender, Nick Holden, 31, is as good as gone as the rental blueliner was acquired as an insurance policy for a deep run that didn’t come to fruition.
Sweeney won’t have to do much this offseason. Find a second line winger, work on bringing some key glue guys back (if possible) and re-sign or sign a new backup goaltender.
You’ll notice “find another top-4 defender” isn’t included in this list. A healthy Brandon Carlo shakes things up in the 2018 postseason. More experience under McAvoy’s reign or the insertion of Jeremy Lauzon or Jakub Zboril on the blueline can make a difference too.
Boston doesn’t have to rush and overpay for the services of a top-4 blueliner– unless they have John Carlson or the like in mind.
That’s right, Anton Khudobin, 32, is a pending-UFA.
While Khudobin held down the fort in October and early November, the backup goalie is not a starter. He loves Boston and the city, rightfully, loves him back for his best performance in goals against average (2.56) and save percentage (.913) in 31 games played since his 2013-14 campaign with the Carolina Hurricanes (a 2.30 GAA and .926 SV% in 36 games played).
There isn’t a huge goalie market, which could do favors for Khudobin if he’s looking for a healthy pay raise, but for Sweeney and the Bruins means he might have to fork something up to retain the services of his backup or acquire a new one.
Then again, Zane McIntyre and Dan Vladar have a healthy competition in the system for the backup role to starting goaltender, Tuukka Rask, 31, and his $7.000 million cap hit through the 2020-21 season.
Rask posted a 2.36 GAA and .917 SV% in 54 games played this season with a 34-14-5 record. He had his third-straight 30-plus win season and was right in the sweet spot for number of games played as a starter (he was four appearances shy of matching his 58-game appearance in 2013-14 with the Bruins– the same season Boston won its 2nd President’s Trophy in franchise history).
Now, as for why the Bruins would look to move Backes (I’m sure you’ve been wondering), it’s a simple game of math. Freeing up $6.000 million in cap space makes signing Kovalchuk or John Tavares more attractive, while also leaving an open door for maybe re-signing glue guys like Riley Nash and Tim Schaller.
And no, Boston won’t bring Milan Lucic back for a second stint with the organization like they did with Glen Murray years ago. Sweeney’s looking to rid the organization of a bad $6.000 million contract, not trying to add one in the form of an Edmonton Oiler’s forward who had his worst season since the lockout shortened 2012-13 season and his injury shortened 50 game season in 2009-10.
Plus, Boston still has Matt Beleskey ($1.900 million, retained salary) on the books through the end of 2018-19, Dennis Seidenberg‘s $1.167 million cap hit through 2019-20 (thanks to a buyout) and Jimmy Hayes‘s $866,667 cap hit through the end of 2018-19 (another buyout) on the books.
Waiting a year to then buyout Backes’s remaining contract isn’t an option either, for the record.
It’s either find a trading partner or live with the consequences.
And no, just trading David Krejci without taking care of Backes at some point doesn’t fix things either. That’d actually hurt the team in its roster depth. Krejci is your surefire second line center (unless Tavares comes into the equation), which is not something Backes could handle at this point in his career.
Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:
Today’s yet another day of offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams starting, of course, with the Edmonton Oilers.
One season after finishing 2nd in the Pacific Division with a 47-26-9 record and 103 points– making the playoffs for the first time since their 2006 Stanley Cup Final appearance– the Edmonton Oilers collapsed.
The Oilers finished 6th in the Pacific in 2017-18 with a 36-40-6 record and 78 points on the season.
General Manager Peter Chiarelli bought into Kris Russell‘s successful 2016-17 season as a shutdown blueliner by re-signing the defender to a four-year, $36 million contract and Russell went on to yield 21 points on the season (an eight point improvement from 2016-17 to 2017-18). Russell fits in with Edmonton’s defense.
The only problem is that it’s noticeable when he makes a mistake because the puck’s usually in the back of the net.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
Chiarelli has expressed a desire for a winger and a young defenseman this offseason.
Get it out of your system now– you know his trade history and if you’re new around here, give him a quick search on Wikipedia.
The good news is Chiarelli has plenty of options with the 10th overall pick in the Draft in Adam Boqvist, Rasmus Kupari, Isac Lundestrom, Joel Farabee, Ty Smith and Joseph Veleno (should any or all of them be available by the 10th pick).
Past that, Chiarelli may try to shop Lucic and his $6.000 million cap hit through the 2022-23 season at the draft and work other transactions as necessary, but Edmonton’s a middle of the road team as things stand right now. Moving one player alone won’t help them and trading everybody isn’t an option either– what with McDavid and Leon Draisaitl‘s combined cap hit reaching $21 million.
Pending free agents
The Oilers can get back into playoff contention with some moves though.
One of the good things going for Edmonton is that they don’t have too much holding them back from solidifying a goaltending duo. Sure, Cam Talbot is a starter, but at 30-years-old with one-year remaining on his contract at $4.167 million and a modified-no-trade-clause, there’s plenty of room to find a 1A/1B option.
Talbot posted a 2.39 goals against average and .919 save percentage in 73 games played in 2016-17, but fell to a 3.02 GAA and .908 SV% in 67 games this season.
In his first year as a starter (2015-16) with Edmonton he had a 2.55 GAA and .917 SV% in 56 games. Clearly, he’s not a high volume goaltender. Somewhere between 45 and 55 games is a sweet spot for Talbot as a starter and the Oilers need a backup that can play almost 30 or more games.
Neither are 1B options.
Mike Cammallieri, 36, is the only pending-unrestricted free agent forward for the Oilers and should only get a callback if he’s willing to be a bottom-6 forward.
Caggiula improved by two points in seven additional games from his rookie season of 18 points in 60 games played. The 23-year-old forward had 13 goals and seven assists (20 points) in 67 games. If Chiarelli sees potential (as there have been some signs), then a bridge deal makes sense.
Pakarinen posted 2-1–3 totals in 40 games played this season. Hard pass. Find a replacement.
Slepyshev had six goals and six assists (12 points) in 50 games with the Oilers this season. He had 4-6–10 totals in 41 games played in 2016-17 and one assist in 11 games in 2015-16. Don’t bring him back if you’re expecting top-6 forward production.
Strome had his best season since his 17-33–50 totals in 81 games with the New York Islanders in 2014-15, but he only amassed 13-21–34 totals in 82 games. At 24, he’s still in the midst of his prime, so things can improve, but with the right linemates. Bring him back and find him a friend or two.
Pending-UFA defender, Yohann Auvitu participated in 33 games for Edmonton this season with three goals and six assists (nine points). The 28-year-old was a plus-four and could stick around as a depth defender.
Nurse’s name has flown around the trade rumor mill already and, sure, he could be a centerpiece to move and attract a decent package in return, but as a surefire top-4 defenseman, Edmonton should hold onto his services and try to convince Andrej Sekera to waive his no-movement-clause instead.
Especially with Benning posting 24 points this season, both defensemen are ready for bigger roles if the Oilers are content with another middle of the road season. Having been more established in the league than Benning, Nurse is opt to be the one dealt this summer.
Edmonton has about $10.100 million to spend this summer and will undoubtedly have to trade one of their younger guys just to keep everyone else happy– this is where Nurse’s name comes up and guys like Oscar Klefbom, the only NHL ready defenseman without a NMC/NTC as part of his contract and at an affordable $4.167 million price tag through 2022-23.
Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:
Buyouts on the books: Benoit Pouliot— $1.333 million through the end of the 2020-21 season.
Nick and Connor fear living in a world where the Washington Capitals are Stanley Cup champions and lament the end of the hockey season that was 2017-18. For the first time ever, the duo tackles a suggestion from a fan of the show (‘sup Gorms).
He exceeded expectations, he outperformed everything beyond imagination– in his contract year, after a 17-point (7 goals, 10 assists) season in 2016-17.
His 15-26–41 totals included two power play goals and three power play points, but no shorthanded goals and no shorthanded points while being one of Boston’s biggest penalty killers.
His CorsiFor% has remained stagnant around 52.00% for the last three seasons.
Consistent? Yes. Bound to be the next mistake by a GM that’s willing to throw money around carelessly? Also yes.
How much of Riley Nash is the real Riley Nash? How much of his play this season was impacted by playing alongside impressive rookie Danton Heinen and David Backes– let alone his appearances on Boston’s first line with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak when the Bruins were hampered by injuries down the middle?
Riley Nash isn’t a passenger, but rather this offseason’s biggest miss for a team looking to buy low and potentially sell high when they realize that one free agent signing alone won’t make all the difference in terms of depth and contending for a playoff spot– depth that you can’t otherwise have if you sign too many top-nine forwards to too big of a contract.
At 29-years-old, Nash cannot get any better from a physical potential standpoint. In a game that’s getting younger and placing more emphasis on speed and skill than ever before, he may be out of an NHL job by the time he’s 35.
In his best seasons as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes, Nash had 24, 25 and 22 point seasons from 2013-16. Through 59 games into this season, he bested his career-high 25 points in 2014-15 with 10-18–28 totals.
He added five goals and eight more assists in 17 games over the course of the remainder of the season, before being shutdown thanks to a shot to the side of the head as a result of friendly fire from defender Torey Krug.
For someone who hadn’t reached the 40-point plateau before, 41 points sounded impressive. Yet his faceoff win percentage has remained stagnant in his full-time NHL days around 48 percent. He’s never scored 20 goals and just broke the 20-assist plateau this season– his seventh year in the NHL.
Happy accidents are great.
They’re fun to watch as players soar and teams roll along, but from a management standpoint there’s only so much cap room to work with.
When Beleskey had his 22-10–32 totals in 65 games with the Anaheim Ducks in 2014-15, the Boston Bruins had a need for someone that could become their immediate fill-in on the second line to replace Milan Lucic (who had been traded that June to the Los Angeles Kings).
Beleskey signed a long-term, five-year contract worth $3.800 million AAV with Boston that July and followed up a successful season in Anaheim with a career high 37 points (15 goals, 22 assists) in 80 games in his first year as a member of the Bruins in 2015-16.
Despite attaining career highs in assists and points in a season, Beleskey’s point-per-game production decreased. It fell off the face of the Earth when injuries and a lack of offense led to just three goals and five assists (eight points) in 49 games the following season (2016-17).
Then through 14 games played in 2017-18 with the Bruins, Beleskey had nothing to show on the scoresheet.
As part of taking on Rick Nash’s contract, both teams had to eat some salary and the Bruins ended up retaining $1.900 million of Beleskey’s cap hit through the end of his contract (July 1, 2020).
While Riley Nash turned heads around the league, becoming a more prominent bottom-six forward, that’s just it– he’s a bottom-six forward, who– like Beleskey did in July 2015, is about to get paid.
Even though Nash brings more offensive upside to his game than Beleskey does, they could be making the same salary because of one outlier season.
One good season is not an indication of consistency.
But NHL GMs have a tendency to eat it up and see a (possibly) short-term fix for an otherwise thought to be long-term hole on their roster.
The ebbs and flows of the market will always lead to poor financial planning in the long run for some teams. Riley Nash does deserve a raise for his efforts with Boston while on a $900,000 cap hit the last two seasons, but buyer beware– maybe not at the price you think.
If you’re willing to take a risk and have the right combination of youth that can help boost his numbers, then Nash is the guy for your team– provided you already have that youth locked up and you aren’t projecting someone else coming up through your system to battle for a roster spot any time soon.
There hasn’t been much of an indication as to how much a guy like Riley Nash might ask for in terms of money this offseason, nor has there been any public indication of how long of a deal he’d like to sign.
That can be a blessing in disguise, if you consider the fact that Rick Nash will likely be available this July too, but at substantially more dollars for about the same impact on a roster (Rick Nash had 20-13–33 totals this season in 71 games with the New York Rangers and Bruins).
Both Nashs are third liners at best that can play on a second or first line if your team is struggling (looking for a creative spark) or going through a lot of injuries.
For comparisons sake, if you’re an NHL GM looking to avoid signing “the worst contract of the summer”, then signing Riley Nash (or literally anyone) at less money than Rick Nash will make you look pretty good.
Rick Nash has sheer name-brand power. Riley Nash, on the other hand, has being one of the funniest, nicest, underrated guys in the locker room going for him.
But Rick Nash has already indicated he’d be willing to re-sign with Boston “if the dollars work out”. Given Boston’s salary cap navigation with Charlie McAvoy entering a contract year in 2018-19 (his final year on his current entry-level deal), the chances of Rick Nash being back in a Bruins uniform at $5.000 million-plus are slim.
Especially when there’s pending-RFA Austin Czarnik to re-sign and others. For Boston, Czarnik may be the key to moving on from Riley Nash if the younger Nash has truly priced himself out.
Sean Kuraly and Czarnik can compete for the third line center job, while the loser reigns as the fourth line center– and that’s ignoring Trent Frederic, Jack Studnicka, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Colby Cave and others in the system that’ll also be fighting for roster spots at training camp.
Nick and Connor rambled about the remaining weeks of the regular season, who will finish last in the NHL, if Boston can catch Tampa, Columbus’s hot streak and more. They also previewed and predicted eight of the NHL’s annual awards. Anze Kopitar has 86 points on the season– get it right, Nick.
Nick and Connor ponder whether or not Taylor Hall is a legitimate Hart Trophy candidate, which Western Conference team (NSH, WPG or VGK) will make the Stanley Cup Final and dive into the odds of the Florida Panthers making the playoffs and/or fielding a competitive team. Also, thoughts on the Detroit Red Wings and goaltender interference.
Nick and Connor recap the 2018 trade deadline, 2018 Winter Games and 2018 overall even though it’s only March. Marco Sturm is worthy of an NHL coaching job, but will anyone take the risk? Hint: They should. Also, more thoughts on the Erik Karlsson saga.