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BHN Hagg Bag: Many Questions About A Mild Offseason For Boston Bruins

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It’s a new website address, but it’s the same old Hagg Bag mailbag answering your Boston Bruins questions.

The offseason has been an eerily quiet one for the Black and Gold outside of losing Torey Krug to the St. Louis Blues in free agency, which was obviously a massive departure from their NHL roster. The addition of Craig Smith in free agency was an excellent add and it’s a credit to Don Sweeney that he got it done at a bargain price for a bona fide third line 20-goal scorer.

But outside of that, the only move of note was re-signing Kevan Miller to a one-year contract, and re-signing players like Matt Grzelcyk, Karson Kuhlman, Jakob Zboril to contract extensions. It’s a unique time in the NHL due to the COVID-19 economics where quality players like Mike Hoffman, Sami Vatanen and Travis Hamonic are all still waiting for new contracts.

And they can be had at bargain basement prices based on the way the offseason has unfolded across the league. Still, the Bruins haven’t done anything of significance within that environment despite being in the running for Taylor Hall and Oliver Ekman-Larsson at earlier points in the offseason. At this point they don’t seem particularly poised to make any significant moves with just $7 million in cap space and RFA winger Jake DeBrusk still left to sign.

It all adds up to Boston Bruins fans being largely dissatisfied with the understated way the offseason has gone after a disappointing loss in the second round to eventual Cup champion Tampa Bay, and that leads to point questions about the NHL roster. Well, we’re always here to help with answers and insight at the Hagg Bag mailbag.

As always these are real questions from real Bruins fans that are sent to my @HackswithHaggs twitter account and messages sent to Facebook fan page. Now, let’s crack open the Hagg Bag:

What’s the talk in Boston, are we signing a free agent???

–Dan Cormier (via Facebook fan page)

JH: Right now, I don’t think so. There is zero chatter about it. Right now. None. I think that could change in the next 7-10 days once things pick up steam for a format and hard dates for the upcoming season. But we’re probably a month away from a possible training camp and two months away from a regular season, so I think we’re going to be at an impasse for a few more weeks. Things really hinge on their remaining moves.

Are they going to re-sign Jake DeBrusk or are they going to trade him? Obviously if DeBrusk gets dealt for either a young defenseman or some other asset, then things might open up for the Bruins to take a run at Mike Hoffman on a one-year deal. Either way the Boston Bruins could be in a position to sign a player like Anthony Duclair for short money while looking for him to build on last season’s solid effort in Ottawa.

More than likely, however, I see the Boston Bruins sending out some camp invites to veterans for training camp and going low risk given their salary cap situation.

That is not very sexy at all.

With little movement on the Bruins part, what’s their next step with preparing for next season? We lost Krug, no replacement, so I’m curious if they will go after a D-man via trade? #Haggbag

–Andy Gregoire (@andygregoire1)

JH: If they go after a defenseman, I’d guess it would be a young RFA-type defenseman in a swap for RFA Jake DeBrusk. They were willing to give up Urho Vaakanainen and a high pick (among other assets) in a deal for Oliver Ekman Larsson, so there’s also a possibility those kinds of trade chips could resurface if another top D-man heads to the trade block. Either way, though, it appears the Bruins are going to need the trading team to eat money on that defenseman’s contract or take a player like John Moore in return to give the Bruins some salary cap relief. Those kinds of things are not going to be easy sells in an NHL where the salary cap will be flat for the next few years and there is still a lot of question as to when fans will be allowed back into NHL buildings.

If I were a betting man, I’d say they go into the season with the defensemen group as constituted. I have doubts about whether Zdeno Chara will be back as well, but for now I’m going to take agent Matt Keator at his word that they are simply waiting on a season format before re-upping with the Bruins. One thing is for sure: The Bruins don’t want to run into the same bonus overage penalties for next season that they are dealing with for last season based on Chara’s bonus money earned.

Joe, the Bruins are going from bad to worse. Do you see it getting any better anytime soon?

–Jim Aber (via Facebook)

JH: C’mon man. They won the President’s Trophy and lost in the second round to the Stanley Cup champs in Tampa. They were never “bad.” They just weren’t good enough. They are still a playoff team, albeit one that’s going to have some issues at the start of next season based on the Brad Marchand/David Pastrnak injuries, the young defense and how much better many of the other teams are in their division.

But to your point, the Boston Bruins are also worse than they were after their second round elimination at the hands of the Lightning. They lost Torey Krug in free agency and didn’t do anything to replace him while hopping that Matt Grzelcyk and Charlie McAvoy can replace his offensive production. I just don’t see it. I like the Craig Smith signing that should pay dividends come playoff-time when they’ve got more offensive punch from the middle of their lineup against deep, playoff-caliber teams. But they are going to struggle massively to score goals at the start of next season with Marchand, Pastrnak and Krug not in the lineup if things start up around Jan. 1.

I think they will get better as the season goes along, but they’d better hope that Tuukka Rask has another awesome Vezina-caliber season and that Don Sweeney is able to pull off something of significance at the trade deadline. I think that might be the biggest hope for an impact move at this point.

I understand that’s disappointing to fans from a team that’s at the end of their Stanley Cup window with an aging group, but they aren’t going to have the bottom completely drop out this season either. I just don’t think they’re going to be good enough to beat Tampa again this postseason and that’s a paramount issue as it’s been in two of the last three postseasons.

Why haven’t the Boston Bruins made any big moves yet? This team has to change. They have to get bigger. They can’t compete with Tampa bay.

–Keith Nessen (via Facebook)

JH: They don’t have any cap space. I agree they need to change. They may be bigger if Kevan Miller can stay healthy (which he hasn’t been in 18 months) and if former first round pick Trent Frederic nails down a fourth line role as a physical, brawling-type forward. Or if Nick Ritchie can finally tap into the size/strength combo that made him a first round pick. I didn’t hate the way he played, at times, in the playoffs and he can help the Bruins if he continues to skate around with a physical edge to his game. But there are a lot of “ifs” in there for my liking. I don’t see any way they beat Tampa Bay again this season unless something drastic changes from the current status quo for both teams.

Remember everyone saying that they traded David Backes to make cap space to re-sign Krug? I remember. Now everyone is glad that Krug is gone? Pretty comical. What a waste of a 1st round draft pick, when they could have bought out Backes this off-season. Sweeney and Neely seem to have no plan, and now their core is past their prime. I’m not upset about Krug leaving, but I wish they would have traded Krug and started the rebuild, instead of letting him walk for nothing like they did with Loui Eriksson.

–Joseph Isodoro (via Facebook)

JH: Pepperidge Farm remembers. Apparently, the Boston Bruins traded David Backes and a first round pick so they could sign Matt Grzelcyk this offseason. Seriously, I don’t think they could wait to trade Backes based on the bonus overage penalties they were stuck with after the season was over. I think his contract needed to be moved when it was moved last season, and it was going to take a first round pick to make it happen regardless of when they did it.

Let’s play devils’ advocate. If they didn’t move the Backes contract when they did, they might have been stuck with it for the rest of his contract with the COVID-19 salary cap situation that the league is currently mired in. So, I’m not going to kill Don Sweeney for that one aside from noting that I hated that contract from the very moment that the Bruins signed him in free agency. Too many years for a player clearly on the downside of his career.

They weren’t going to trade Krug based on their high hopes for last season. They won the President’s Trophy, and they were coming off a Game 7 loss in the Stanley Cup Final. The group of players deserved a shot to win it last season even if they came up disappointingly short. Teams in the Bruins position are going to let players walk for nothing in order to make legit runs at the Cup. That may not be the case a year or two from now, but they were still in the window last season.

With the overhaul on the Boston Bruins back end, we may actually be witnessing the beginning of a rebuild-on-the-fly right now from the Bruins. We’ll just have to see how the season plays out. Like I said earlier, though, this could be a rough beginning to the new season for the Boston Bruins.

Good day, Joe.

Let’s just do it and unload Tuukka. He bailed on the team this year, last year he took a leave of absence and lets in too many soft goals. I believe that the team can go just as far without him. IE: Halak this year. Spend the money on the forward that David Krejci has been waiting for year after year. It’s been 9+ years since Lord Stanley stopped by for a visit, way too long for a team that has been together this long.

Time to shake up the dressing room, as it has too many egos controlling that said room. Every year we listen to the sob stories why we didn’t win. We need aggressive actions by management not this tiptoe that they like to do. 53+ years as a Bruins fan. Just like a bad coach to their players, we fans too have management’s words fall upon deaf ears!

–Bob Boisclair (via Facebook fan page)

JH: Good day, Bob. What a nice way to greet somebody. I think if we learned anything from the playoffs it’s that they don’t have as good a chance of advancing with Jaroslav Halak as they do with Tuukka Rask. They just don’t. In order to win, they need to be playing well and Rask needs to be at his “locked in” best between the pipes. Is that going to be possible with whatever strange format the NHL rolls out for their regular season and playoffs? That’s a legit question when Rask is concerned after he’s needed breaks to deal with family issues in each of the last two seasons.

That’s neither negative nor positive toward Rask. It’s just stating the facts. But they also don’t have a chance to win without him this coming season. Halak can’t carry the mail at 35 years old and both Jeremy Swayman and Daniel Vladar aren’t ready to be the No. 1 guy for the Bruins either, particularly for a veteran team that still has Cup aspirations.

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The Boston Bruins had no choice but to roll with Rask for this final season under contract and then I’d expect both the player and the team to revisit their options moving forward. Who really knows with Rask? I know he’s voiced a desire to keep playing, but he’s also a different kind of guy that has a lot of interests in his life. I’m really not even convinced that hockey is his favorite sport as compared to golf and tennis, or if it compares to his love of Metallica and music, or most importantly being with his family.

I think a guy like Rask could retire a lot earlier than most other NHL goalies, even if that means calling it a career without winning a Cup. It may not be after next season, but it could be sooner than anybody expects for a guy that could still play for another six or seven years if he really had the desire burning inside.

Any thoughts on Felger’s claim that the Bs only want Zdeno Chara back in a bench/management position but Z wants to keep playing?

–CollectorsCantina (@CollectCantina)

JH: It certainly makes for a juicy Felger take, which is exactly what he loves. This is just my gut feeling without any sources telling me this, but I think the Bruins might not want him back. His agent Matt Keator told my partner Jimmy Murphy that the 43-year-old Chara is simply waiting to see what the season format is going to be, and that makes a ton of sense for an aging player with a young family that’s close to retirement.

If it’s a bubble or something that would keep him from his kids, then there’s a pretty good chance Chara could say “thanks, but no thanks” to extending his Hall of Fame career. Perhaps it’s as simple as that. But I also wonder if there’s an element of Chara grappling with whatever role the Bruins have in mind for their captain. I’m not sure if it’s in a management/coaching capacity, but I think it’s more likely that Chara is balking at being a possible bottom pair D-man playing 15-17 minutes per game and specializing in killing penalties and protecting leads late in games.

Who knows? Maybe Chara would even be scratched against tough matchups against smaller, skilled players. Maybe that’s part of what is holding Chara from fully embracing a return to the Bruins before it’s time to make a decision.

Whatever the case, I’ve heard from multiple sources around the league that many other NHL teams have interest in Chara as a shutdown defenseman if things don’t happen for him in Boston. So, the Boston Bruins are playing with fire even letting him dangle out there in free agency as is the case right now.

That’s something to watch for in the next Hagg Bag. Until then, we’ll see you around the rink.

Joe Haggerty has covered the Boston Bruins and the NHL for 18 years with NBC Sports Boston, WEEI.com, the Boston Metro and the Woburn Daily Times, and currently serves as lead Bruins reporter and columnist for Boston Hockey Now. Haggs always strives to capture the spirt of the thing any way that he can.

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Rick W Murray

They been kowtowing to Rask for years now! He has never won a cup for the bruins always seems to either bale out or when the games on the line he falters! I would hate to see the team rebuild but this guy’s attitude is just so wrong get rid of him while you still can!

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