With the signing of Jake DeBrusk now in the books, the drama is much more about the overall NHL picture rather than anything happening with the Boston Bruins. The NHL and NHLPA are at odds about player salaries, escrow and just how much NHL owners are willing to fork out in player salaries with limited-or-zero fans in the stands for next season.
This is pretty heavy-duty NHL subject matter.
It makes sense that there is great caution among NHL owners given how much more gate revenue-dependent the NHL is in comparison to the other major sports leagues, and given the estimated $150 million per franchise it would cost to put on a full season. It made sense to put together bubble playoffs with zero fans to recoup their TV money for a couple of months last summer, but the calculation is much different for the NHL when it comes to a full season and playoffs after that.
Anyway, we’re here to talk about the Bruins and the hopes for an upcoming season. Still, plenty of questions about the master plan since things feel very incomplete with the Boston Bruins right now. As always these are real questions from real fans using the #HaggBag hash tag to my twitter account and real messages sent to my Facebook fan page.
Now, let’s crack open the Hagg Bag:
After the 2020 loss to Tampa, both Don Sweeney and Cam Neely acknowledged that the Bruins are not good enough to beat Tampa and that major changes had to be made. My biggest concern is it took them this long to recognize the situation. Anyone who follows the league and is objective realized this after the 2018 Tampa loss, yet it took another 2 1/2 years and a second playoff loss for them to realize? Are we sure these are the guys we want in charge of the rebuild?
–Marc, Malden, MA (via the Facebook fan page)
JH: To be fair, they also got to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2019 between those two postseason losses to the Tampa Bay Lightning. It would have been worth the stretch if they’d been able to actually close the deal against the St. Louis Blues in the Final.
Certainly, there have been some Boston Bruins mistakes along the way for Sweeney, particularly in the early days of his general managership. But this had been on a clear upward trajectory for the B’s over the last five years until they were eliminated in the second round against Tampa Bay in the bubble. They did lose to the eventual Cup champs and lost twice in overtime, so it wasn’t like they were completely run over by a Lightning team that won it all.
It’s clear that the aging core group needed some changes, they needed more depth among their forwards, and it was equally obvious that the Bruins were too small both up front and on the back end.
Neely and Sweeney have made their adjustments with the Craig Smith signing, with allowing Torey Krug to walk in free agency and with potentially moving on from their 43-year-old captain depending on how things play out over the next couple of months. They hired Bruce Cassidy, which in hindsight has been an excellent move and both David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy have developed into star young players under their watch. They have also retained key core players like Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak for bargain salary cap deals in what’s become a trademark strength for the Boston Bruins.
They already competently rebuilt the Boston Bruins from the group that began declining after the 2013 Stanley Cup Final appearance vs. Chicago, and they have earned the chance to do it again. The lack of top drawer prospects in their system is a bit concerning, but a great deal of that has to do with the first round picks they’ve traded in the last few years to attempt getting over the top at the trade deadline.
I didn’t love their draft last month and I’m puzzled by their offseason, but I’m willing to see what the plan turns out to be before thoroughly haranguing them for it.
[The NHL should] put every game on broadcast TV in prime time or rip up the regional sports network black outs on the NHL TV app, and they could easily make up the difference [with no fans in the arenas] by increased eyeballs and new fans. What the hell else are people going to watch when football ends? Baseball? Ha!
JH: It’s going to cost the NHL roughly $150 million per team to run a regular season along with the playoffs. They’re not going to make that up without ticket-purchasing fans, which is why the league is looking for the players to endure a deeper cut to their salaries to lower that $150 million nut they have to crack. Even with the players agreeing to a much higher escrow amount or massive deferrals, it’s hard to imagine a team like the Arizona Coyotes would be able to survive financially with their modest fan base totally decimated. The same goes for a team like the Florida Panthers. Even some of the NHL’s big boy franchises would arguably have a hard time surviving if it takes 6-12 months before large crowds are allowed to gather again at NHL games.
I don’t think any of the changes you’ve mentioned are going to demonstrably move the needle by hundreds of millions of dollars. The problem is that the NHL isn’t going to be sustained by their TV deal like some of the other leagues (NBA, NFL and MLB) can do without tickets purchases and fans occupying the seats.
At the end of the day, I suspect the players are going to recognize they need to give further if they want to play this upcoming season. But it sure sounds like it’s going to be an excruciating process like the 2013 NHL lockout before we see NHL hockey this season. That is not all that encouraging.
Will Zdeno Chara be resigned or go the Ray Bourque route?
–Stewart-Allen Clark (@StewartAllenCl1)
JH: My prediction is that Zdeno Chara is not going to re-sign with the Boston Bruins. I’m just not sure he’s going to want to play the role that Boston is envisioning for him as more of a third-pairing defenseman playing 15-17 minutes a night killing penalties and protecting late leads in games. For a guy that’s been a top D-man for his entire NHL career and is a surefire Hall of Famer, it’s a pretty significant adjustment.
I’m not sure he’d sign somewhere else for a run at the Stanley Cup with all things considered, but it’s difficult to say at this point. Either way, I wouldn’t consider it “The Bourque route” because Chara has already won a Cup and punched his ticket to the Hall of Fame. At this point, Chara is continuing to play to prove to himself that he can still compete at an elite level in his mid-40’s and perhaps challenge Gordie Howe for some of his NHL longevity records.
The sense I get listening to Bruce Cassidy about the upcoming season when it comes to the B’s defensemen situation, I just have this feeling like the Bruins are ready to move on to a younger, more mobile group. I also don’t think they would have re-signed Kevan Miller when they did if they knew Chara was coming back. That signing felt like a move to make sure they had some kind of enforcer on the back end if they didn’t have Zdeno Chara anymore.
Maybe I’m wrong, though. It’s just a gut feeling.
Will Charlie McAvoy get past Torey Krug leaving? They were really tight.
–Gregg Eppleman (@gatorgse)
JH: Yes, they were tight and they still work out together in Boston. Certainly McAvoy sounded bummed (“It [expletive] sucks, man.”}when talking about it on a podcast last week. Krug was a very popular teammate in the Bruins dressing room and there will be an adjustment period with him now gone to St. Louis. But Charlie McAvoy could also begin to get ice time on the top power play unit and could see his offensive numbers really start to jump with Krug now out of the mix.
If that ends up happening for McAvoy, then I think it could be a pretty quick period of mourning before he’s over it for the Bruins. These guys are professionals. This might have been McAvoy’s first real lesson that the NHL is a cold, hard business, but Krug’s departure should end up being beneficial for young guys like McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk. That’s the circle of life in the NHL, as Bruce Cassidy likes to say.
Better name reveal of 2020: Grogu or Kraken? #HaggBag
–Jonny T (@J0NNY_T_)
JH: I like the name Grogu. It takes some of the mystery and intrigue out of the Mandalorian storyline, but it also begins to pull back a much bigger painting canvas that show creators John Favreau and Dave Filoni are working with. I love the show, I love all the Easter eggs and I love the feeling that they are tying together a shared universe that’s going to include other TV shows and movies.
I thought the introduction of the other Mandalorians a couple of episodes ago was fantastic as well. Their theme music slaps. The Kraken? Well, let’s just say I’m a lot more impressed by the NHL expansion franchise and the one from Clash of the Titans.
What happened to the “take a hard look at our roster “narrative from management? I think many translated that as changes were coming. Yet we are now in December with Krug gone and Smith signed. Other than that, nothing has changed! You know the definition of insanity. #haggbag
–Zachary Keefe (@darthzach7)
JH: If Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara are both gone, that’s 2/3 of the left side of your defense. I’d say that’s a pretty big change to the roster. I’m also guessing that Jack Studnicka, Trent Frederic, Jakub Zboril and Urho Vaakanainen will get serious looks on this year’s team and that would inject quite a bit of youth to their NHL roster as well. It’s not a massive, earth-shattering trade or a big free agent acquisition like many Bruins fans were clamoring for, but there are clear signs that the Bruins are going to look significantly different next season.
Will they be better for it? Well, that’s really the million-dollar question that we’ll only know the answer to once the games start getting played.
What will it take to get Brandon Carlo on board on a 4-5 year [contract] term?
March, Bergy, Pasta
Studnicka, Kreij, Kase
Jake, Charlie, Smith
Bjork, kurals, Wags?
JH: Carlo is entering the last year of a two-year contract where he’s making a base salary of $3.5 million, per PuckPedia. He’ll still be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights, and he’ll be looking at something in the $4-5 million range based simply on another solid season like the one he enjoyed last year. He’s their future shutdown defenseman, so I don’t anticipate any problems with signing him to a long-term deal when the time comes.
As for your lines, It’s a pretty good stab. Here’s what I would guess it will be to start the season once everybody is healthy (which probably won’t be until February):
I think Studnicka may start the season in Providence, and then we’ll see him up with the big club at some point during the year. He may even end up starting the year in Boston with Pastrnak recovering from his hip surgery, and then head back down to the AHL while Don Sweeney figures out the roster over the course of the season.
I think Nick Ritchie is going to get a chance to play for a bit to see if there is something there, and I think Ritchie and Trent Frederic in the same lineup could lead to some black-and-blue hockey games that old school Boston Bruins fans would love. We’ll see how it all shakes out, but the Marchand/Pastrnak injuries really make it difficult to predict how the Boston Bruins are going to fare coming out of the starting gate.
So, there’s rumors of trading Brandon Carlo and Jake DeBrusk to Calgary for Noah Hanifin and Bennett. I don’t agree with trading Carlo, a big young kid just starting to come into his own. I understand the temptation of adding a quality guy like Hanifin, but this is foolish. As you said yourself, the Bruins were too small on the back end the last couple seasons. With Chara possibly not coming back, Carlo is their biggest defender. Why doesn’t Sweeny try and land a D-man with his cap space instead of trading away a very promising, big hearted D-man who obviously loves being a Boston Bruin?
–Glenn Rehill (via Facebook fan page)
JH: I don’t think that trade has any chance of happening at this point. The Boston Bruins have coveted Noah Hanifin since they tried to trade up to get him in the 2015 NHL Draft and then got saddled with those three consecutive first round picks. But I don’t think there’s any desire to trade a player in Carlo that works hard, plays hard and continues to just get better and better every single season. He is the heir apparent to Zdeno Chara as a penalty killer, play stopper and shutdown defenseman.
If they were going to trade for an established defenseman like Noah Hanifin, Oliver Ekman-Larsson or somebody else of that ilk, I believe it would be prospect Urho Vaakanainen (as I wrote about a couple of weeks ago) and a first round pick that would be at the heart of the package. Perhaps they would have discussed DeBrusk in an expanded deal as well, but methinks he’s sticking in Boston now that they’ve signed him to a pretty reasonable bridge deal.
That’s it for this week’s Hagg Bag, we’ll see you at the rinks.