Drew Johnson The Hockey Writers
Bruins Not out of the Woods Yet
If all goes according to plan, the Boston Bruins will be entering the 2017-18 season on a high note. Young prodigy David Pastrnak has finally re-signed with the team while the organization’s prospect pool is steadily blooming.
But, if you’re a diehard Bruins fan, the bitter taste of last season is still lingering on your taste buds. This is most likely due to the seemingly infinite amount of shortcomings of individual players and the team collectively. The dissatisfaction is still prevalent when scrolling through the Twitter feeds of the Boston faithful.
Now, if the fans were in General Manager Don Sweeney’s chair, the team would be in a bleak place. Namely, Tuukka Rask would be traded and Pastrnak would be paid $10 million a year. While it is good that the fans aren’t contributing in a front office capacity, they do play the critical role of staying loud both at TD Garden as well as in Sweeney’s ear.
Sweeney did well this offseason both in the draft, as well as making adjustments to the roster. He re-signed the right guys for the right price and was confident when determining who failed to make the cut. But, that does not mean he can sit back and relax as he watches over his team. The fact of the matter is that the Bruins are not out of the woods yet. Work is left to be done to shape this team into a Stanley Cup contender.
The 2016-17 season was a good one but only compared to the two campaigns that led up to it. Patrice Bergeron was the team’s top contributor offensively during the 2014-15 season with 23 goals and 32 assists. Sure, the then 29-year-old was and still is the club’s best center, but the Bruins are going to have to spread the wealth; Bergeron is now on the wrong side of 30. Luckily, Brad Marchand and Pastrnak have finally come to his aid.
Bergeron was the only Bruin to accumulate more than 50 points that season. Following him were just six players with 40 or more points. The 2014-15 campaign ended with a thud that echoed throughout the streets of Boston all summer. With a feasible path to the postseason, the Bruins lost the last three games of the season en route to a long three months of golf.
Boston missed the playoffs once again the following season. However, key forwards were able to put up some more impressive statistics. Bergeron once again led the way with 32 goals and 36 assists. He was one of four Bruins including Marchand, Loui Eriksson, and David Krejci to produce 60 points that year. The B’s finished the 2015-16 season with 236 goals for while giving up 228 goals against.
The 2016-17 season saw Pastrnak tally 70 points, earning himself a big payday. Marchand was solidified as the team’s top scorer, netting himself 39 goals and 46 assists in 80 games. Together, they led Boston to the postseason after missing the ship two years in a row.
Though the Bruins’ run lasted no more than six games, it was a breath of fresh air after a very up and down season. The team pardoned head coach Claude Julien after a 26-23-6 record through February. Bruce Cassidy filled the hole, leading the Bruins to an 18-8-1 finish to the 2016-17 campaign.
Beleskey & Hayes Woes
Two players, in particular, fell on their own swords last season; Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes. The two wingers combined for a total of five goals, eight assists, and 107 games during the 2016-17 season.
Beleskey notched just three goals and five assists in 49 games during the campaign following a 15-goal 22-assist performance through 80 games of the 2015-16 season. Sweeney brought the former Anaheim Duck in from free agency for his ability to beat you on the score sheet as well as in the hits column. During the 2015-16 season, Beleskey was credited with the most hits in any season of his career: 260.
No. 39’s performance during the 2016-17 campaign was simply not up to snuff. He is just one Bruin on the roster that is in need of a rebound entering this season. Sweeney will likely look to move him by the trade deadline if his woes continue. That, or if a young prospect simply outshines him.
Hayes’ saga in Beantown came to a close this offseason when the Bruins decided to buy him out of his contract. The Boston-native tallied just two goals and three assists during the 2016-17 campaign though he appeared in 58 games. No. 11’s shooting percentage of 2.7 percent last year marked an all-time low. So was his average time on ice per game which hovered just north of nine minutes.
The Boston College alumni tapped Boston’s salary cap for $2.3 million before the buyout. He will continue to hit the Bruins’ cap for $566,667 next season and an escalated $866,667 the following year.
The New Jersey Devils announced that they invited Hayes to their training camp this month on the basis of a professional tryout. The tryout could help both parties as Hayes is without a home for the 2017-18 season while the Devils are short at the right wing position.
Whether or not Hayes makes the Devils roster remains a huge question mark. He already lost his role in Boston due to a plethora of young talent coming up the pike, and he will meet the same fate in the Garden State if he does not transform his game.
Spooner & Vatrano Rebound
25-year-old Ryan Spooner and 23-year-old Frank Vatrano are entering the 2017-18 season with something to prove. They combined for 21 goals, 36 assists, and 122 games last year.
Spooner drew criticism from both coach Julien and Cassidy last season, citing his play on both sides of the ice. His 39 points last season was a step down from the 49 he produced the year prior. Meanwhile, his face-off percentage plummeted to a measly 38.3 percent.
No. 51 averaged just over 14 minutes per game, a depression from his career-high 15 minutes during the 2015-16 campaign. Spooner remained valuable on Boston’s power play only tallying two fewer power play points last season than the year prior. His even strength play, however, has taken a hit. He assisted a mere 13 goals at even strength during the 2016-17 season compared to his 25 even strength assists during the 2015-16 campaign.
Spooner must make a case for himself this year. He will likely be slated on the third line come October, giving him the opportunity to prove that he is deserving of the role. Whether or not he snags the center position will be determined by the skill sets of up-and-coming prospects.
It will also depend on where David Backes lands in the lineup following a humbling first season in black and gold. His face-off statistics certainly aren’t helping his bid in staying off the wing. If Spooner fails to once again become an asset to Boston, Sweeney will likely move him at the trade deadline for a veteran better suited for the third line.
Vatrano will likely find himself on Spooner’s left flank entering the 2017-18 campaign. He is, however, in a less stressful situation than that of Spooner. Having not played in a full NHL season, the Massachusetts-native intends to make a bid for Boston’s top-six, according to Bruce Cassidy:
He’s certainly a guy I consider a National Hockey League player. Absolutely, he’s a guy who wants to grow into a bigger role.
Vatrano has appeared in 83 games over the course of the last two seasons, notching 18 goals and assisting another 11. Considering that he was coming off of an injury en route to his 10 goals and eight assists last year, the young winger’s numbers should improve.
If No. 72 fails to crack the team’s top-six, he should develop into a solid scoring third-liner who can contribute on the power play. He averaged south of 14 minutes per game last season which should see an uptick, especially if he is tested on Boston’s second line.
Expectations? Fans and critics alike of the B’s should expect 20 goals from the left-shooting forward. A similar number of assists would be nice, though he has scored more goals than he has assisted thus far in his NHL career.
Plethora of Prospects
The Hockey Writer’s Brett Slawson wrote an article ranking the NHL’s Top 100 prospects this year. Four Bruins are featured on the list, including Charlie McAvoy who took the No. 1 spot. Anders Bjork (No. 98), Jake DeBrusk (No. 78), and Jakub Zboril (No. 68) also made the cut.
Other Bruins who will likely see some NHL time this year, whether it be as starters or utilities, are Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Jesse Gabrielle, and Zach Senyshyn. If they don’t find themselves in Boston on a regular basis, these prospects and more will all see ample time in Providence.
Boston has a number of defensemen who will make their way into the NHL whether that be with the Bruins or another orginization in the future. This includes not only the aforementioned Zboril but guys like Matt Grzlcyk, Jeremy Lauzon, and Rob O’Gara. Their ceilings are not too clear at this time, but these defensemen all of the skillset necessary to break into a team’s bottom pair in the next few seasons.
The vast majority of Boston’s prospects will not make the starting lineup this year, however. Those who do won’t be expected to lead the team in any column on the stat sheet. The future is most certainly bright in Beantown, but that does not mean the Bruins are ready to make a long playoff run.
Fans should expect a second-round appearance this season, if not simply to outperform last year’s ousting at the hands of the Ottawa Senators. The second round is certainly within Cassidy and his crews’ grasps this season.
Looking at the 2017-18 season, Boston is not quite out of the woods yet. But, if their young talent pans out and veterans are added to the mix, the Bruins could see themselves making a bid for the Stanley Cup by 2020.
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