Not much has happened with the Boston Bruins since the last Hagg Bag mailbag dropped last weekend, but regardless we’re going to start cranking these out on a regular basis.
So here a fresh Hagg Bag for this week with some of the same questions about the Black and Gold’s “pedestrian” offseason, as NBC’s Pierre McGuire called it, as well as a creeping sense of dread that the NHL and NHLPA may have some substantial issues to work out before we got a concrete date to commence the 2020-21 regular season.
That means there is plenty to discuss.
As always these are real questions from real Bruins fans that are sent to my @HackswithHaggs twitter account and messages sent to my Facebook fan page. Now, let’s crack open the Hagg Bag for this week:
#HaggBagg… why is there no move by Donny Do Nothing to improve the team offensively? We let Krug walk for a livable price, so we can discuss the idiotic possibility of adding OEL?
JH: I don’t think trading for Oliver Ekman-Larsson is idiotic at all. Looks, it’s obviously a big commitment with a massive contract (over $8 million AAV through 2027) for a player that’s approaching 30 years of age just like Torey Krug. The big difference between Ekman-Larsson and Krug is that OEL is 6-foot-2, 200-pounds and isn’t the same kind of liability in the defensive zone that Krug has been in his career. Certainly Ekman-Larsson isn’t what anybody would call a defensive stopper and he’s been a minus player for all seven full NHL seasons that he’s been in Arizona.
But I’m not going to fully fault him when he’s played on some truly awful defensive Coyotes teams in Arizona. The bottom line problem with Krug was also his actual final play in a Boston Bruins uniform: He failed to be first on a puck behind the Boston net and then got manhandled by Patrick Maroon in front of the net as Victor Hedman rifled one in double-overtime to give the Lightning the decisive win in Game 5.
For all the elite offensive things that Krug has done, there were too many times when he was too easily exploited in the D-zone due to his lack of size and strength. With Ekman-Larsson you’d get the same kind of offensive ability both 5-on-5 and on the power play, and you’d get a much bigger-bodied defenseman that could provide at least a little more battle-area strength.
OEL has topped 20 goals in a season a couple of times in the NHL and that’s pretty impressive for a defenseman. When the Bruins talk about generating more offense from the back end, that would be a big help.
Having both Krug and the undersized Matt Grzelcyk on the back end was one too many small D-men for the Boston Bruins over the last couple of seasons. We’ll see if it ends up being the right call or not, but it’s clear they were too small on the back end over the last few postseasons.
Is the NHL still targeting Jan 1 for a start date? When will the Bruins and Zdeno Chara come to an agreement? We want Big Z back!
–Joe Connors (@JoeConnors4)
JH: The NHL is still targeting a Jan. 1 start and perhaps still harboring some outside hope they can play a full NHL schedule, but I don’t think we’re going to see either of those things. I had a source explain to me that they think mid-January is the earliest that the players would agree to start based on NHL players having little desire to hold training camp around the Christmas holiday.
Some may scoff at that, but we’re also talking about NHL players that went weeks and months without their families this summer to play in the playoff bubble. I have a hard time seeing them giving up family time right now at the holidays to kick off the dog days of training camp. More likely is an early January start to camp and mid-January start to the regular season, but I’m not ruling out a February start to the NHL regular season either. That could mean something like a 48-game schedule, which I think everybody would be okay with given the challenging circumstances.
What do you think the ultimate potential ceiling is for Jack Studnicka? Say 3-5 years down the road… what is he at points wise?
–Phil Wrye (@philwrye)
JH: I talked a few NHL talent evaluators about Jack Studnicka along with the other top Boston Bruins prospects, and they felt his ceiling was as a top-6 center at the NHL level. He certainly looks like he might be a replacement for Patrice Bergeron or David Krejci as they enter NHL middle age, and the door could be opened for Studnicka as a second line center as soon as the 2021-22 NHL season.
Certainly, Studnicka is impressive as a goal-scorer, a two-way center with good size and hockey IQ and potential impact forward for the Boston Bruins. Interestingly, one scout I talked to likened his game to Anthony Cirelli, who has been a fine third line center and penalty killer for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Something around 20 goals and 50 points is reasonable, and perhaps he could be even a little better than that at his best.
I think the B’s are hoping his high end ceiling is a little higher than Cirelli, but the Bruins could also use that kind of a player as soon as next season after he impressed in his playoff appearances last summer.
If Zdeno Chara, Don Sweeney and Bruce Cassidy are on the same page I would keep him! If Chara thinks differently, I would tell him to sign with another team! We must remember as good as he was, we’ve only won one Stanley Cup under his leadership! His act is starting to wear thin!
–Larry Zani (via Facebook fan page)
JH: I still think the most likely scenario is Zdeno Chara re-signing with the Boston Bruins for a one-year deal at very short money. I take Chara’s agent, Matt Keator, at face value when he told us that Chara was simply waiting for an NHL season format to be announced before deciding whether he wanted to play at all.
Any Chara contract would likely need to be without any kind of bonus money since Chara’s bonus was part of the issue with last season’s significant bonus overage penalties (almost $1 million this season and next) that the Boston Bruins need to pay out on their salary cap over the next two seasons.
But there’s a lot of moving parts with Chara also probably required to accept a lesser role with the Bruins should he come back. It’s hard to see Chara playing more than 16-17 minutes a night as a bottom-pairing defenseman that specializes in penalty killing and closing out tight leads in games, and perhaps even accepting life as a healthy scratch against smaller, faster opponents that could be bad matchups for him at 43 years old.
But there’s also a chance whenever a player is a free agent that they could sign elsewhere, or that the Boston Bruins find themselves in a place where they can’t bring Chara back given a pretty full group already on the back end. If Chara is indeed done playing, then I’ll be the first to congratulate him on a Hall of Fame career and being the best shutdown defenseman of his generation. His intimidating presence, not to mention his strong leadership in the dressing room, will be missed on the B’s roster if he’s not there next season.
Besides skating, what else does [Urho Vaakanainen] do well? Another wasted 1st round pick by Sweeney. Hopefully another team sees some promise in him, and they somehow get a decent return.
–Joseph Isodoro (via Facebook fan page)
JH: Vaakanainen has decent size, great skating ability and can make a pretty good first pass out of the defensive zone. In today’s NHL, those kinds of defensemen have value in a league that’s predicated on skating and moving the puck.
But that being said, Vaakanainen is average offensively at best and is soft in the defensive zone despite a reputation as a shutdown defenseman when he was drafted. That says to me that he’s got some skills to be a top-4 defenseman, but he’s also going to have some pretty easily exploited flaws at the NHL level. As I wrote a couple of days ago, Vaakanainen might just be the kind of prospect that a team trades away as a valued asset rather than develops them into a long-term player for their own organization.
There are teams that value Vaakanainen and places where his strengths might play into their system perfectly, but his shortcomings are not going to ever make him a fan favorite in Boston. If they can ship Vaakanainen out in a deal for an established offensive defenseman to replace Krug (like Oliver Ekman-Larsson) then I would absolutely pull the trigger on that. If Vaakanainen can be used as a trade chip for a significant impact D-man, then it’s not a waste of a first-round pick at all.
We shall see on him, but he is Boston’s best defensemen prospect right now for better or worse.
Are they proposing a bubble for the playoffs again? Or is it too early to tell…that would be the only potential way Canadian teams can play US teams unless restrictions lifted.
–Laurie Fowles (@LMF4875)
JH: It’s too early to tell right now, but every indication I have from sources around the league is that the NHL is hoping they can move closer to full capacity in all their NHL arenas as the season goes on. The hope is that they will be able to hold playoff dates in home NHL cities with reasonably sized crowds there to watch the games, but that’s months and months from now.
They are going to need that if an NHL season is going to be economically viable.
It will all depend on how things go with COVID-19 over the next few months, how successful the implementation of the vaccines are and how strictly people adhere to things like social distancing and wearing masks. Hopefully we’re in a better place in March and April than we are right now.
I think the NHL is also aiming to avoid another round of bubble playoffs this summer, but it all depends on the very uncertain future.
I’d have to think you answered this question at least 100x, but I have to ask again! Are we going to get Mike Hoffman to play with Krejci?
–Mikey D (@Mikey_D91)
JH: I wouldn’t hate this. Hoffman had 18 even strength goals this past season for the Panthers, which would have put only behind the Perfection Line guys in terms of 5-on-5 goal-scoring. He’s a bone fide 30-goal scorer and somebody that could be really effective with a playmaker like Krejci and would also bring a much-needed shoot-first mentality to the second power play unit.
People say that Hoffman is one-dimensional and only scorers on the PP, but that’s not true…and it’s also the one dimension that the Bruins need even more of next season.
But it may be that the Bruins simply can’t afford Hoffman even on a one-year contract given their cap constraints. If that turns out to be the case, I wouldn’t hate the Bruins taking a flier on Anthony Duclair at all. He’s a player that will be cheap this offseason and could have a high upside as a goal-scoring wing after his excellent rebound season in Ottawa last year.
Does Sweeney have a PR guy leaking stories re B’s connected to every player in the league? Has there ever been a GM that “works the phones” or “has discussions” more than Sweeney w/o actually landing players? Remember when B’s were going to be super active this offseason? #HaggBag
–Jay Tate (@He_Hate_Me)
JH: Don Sweeney definitely does not have a PR guy leaking stories connected to every player in the league. That is not his style…at all.
Remember when he basically shot down the Boston Bruins having any interest in Alex Pietrangelo at the start of NHL free agency? Pepperidge Farm remembers. The Bruins have been in on big names in the past even if they haven’t always landed them. And usually it’s the right move as it was when the Bruins passed on going extra years for a player like Ilya Kovalchuk before losing out to the LA Kings for his services. That ended up being a smart move.
Clearly Sweeney’s strength is re-signing his own players to bargain contracts rather than landing outside free agents to good deals, so maybe it’s a good thing he doesn’t spend like a drunken sailor during NHL free agency. A lesson was learned with the David Backes contract, for sure. And the Bruins were legitimately in on both Ekman-Larsson and Taylor Hall at the beginning of October.
The bottom line is that Sweeney needs to do more to upgrade Boston’s roster this offseason than he’s done to date. Right now I’d give him a “C” grade that could drop to a “D” if he simply re-signs Jake DeBrusk and that’s it, or could rise to a “B” if he finds a way to land a top defensemen or bring in a guy like Mike Hoffman. To this point, Sweeney hasn’t been good enough for a team that still clearly believes they’re in the very back end of their Stanley Cup window.
That is fair and deserved criticism when it comes to Don Sweeney.
That’s it for this week, see you around the rink.