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Hagg Bag: Time For Breaking Down The Boston Bruins Lineup



Boston Bruins

The good news for the Boston Bruins is that it looks like there is going to be an NHL season that begins in mid-January. The bad news for the Boston Bruins is that there still hasn’t been any moves to improve their roster, though it’s entirely possible that there could be a flurry of trades ahead of the regular season if it does indeed go off in January.

For the time being, though, it’s status quo for the Black and Gold with everything a week closer to actually happening with real progress made between the NHL and NHLPA toward returning to play. That means there are plenty of questions to be answered both big and small, and as always, we are ready to answer them in the Hagg Bag mailbag.

As always these are real questions from real Bruins fans using the #HaggBag hash tag on my twitter account, or messages to my Facebook fan page. Now let’s crack open the bag this week:

Do you see any PTO’s for Boston? If so, who? If not, why?

–Andrew is a healthy scratch (@justyouknowwhyyy)

JH: One PTO I could potentially see is a player I already wrote about a couple of months ago in Karl Alzner. With the Boston Bruins potentially going very young with their defensemen group they could use a low-priced veteran or two (particularly on the left side where they may be losing Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug), and a proven defenseman like Alzner could be good insurance in case youngsters like Jakub Zboril or Urho Vaakanainen aren’t ready for prime time.

Certainly, there’s a chance that the Bruins might get a quality player like Antony Duclair on a PTO simply because of the fiscal landscape across the NHL right now. But I suspect players like Duclair and Mikael Granlund will eventually sign guaranteed contracts rather than tryouts for training camp, so they won’t be available for PTO’s. But in general, I would think a veteran defenseman and a potential goal-scoring top-9 winger would be a pair of places you might see the Bruins bring in a veteran given that it sounds like NHL rosters are going to be expanded given the unique circumstances of the upcoming season amidst COVID-19.

Do you think Rask will be mentally sharp for another COVID-19 shortened season, or has he already checked out? #HaggBag

–Rich G Bruins Fan (@richg6567)

JH: It’s the last year of Tuukka Rask’s current contract, so he’d better be mentally sharp and locked in if he wants to continue playing. This season is going to be interesting in that regard. I certainly don’t expect the Boston Bruins to sign him to any kind of extension prior to/or during the season, but instead things will play out and quite a bit will hinge on how things go on and off the ice. Will Rask run into another issue balancing the personal and the professional as he has the last couple of seasons? Will he be Vezina Trophy-level from beginning to end with zero hiccups, issues or interruptions in a contract year? Does Rask even want to continue playing as a goalie in his mid-30’s that’s already made over $50 million in his NHL career and has myriad interests outside of the game of hockey?

It will also depend on how Jeremy Swayman and Daniel Vladar develop at the AHL level this season as well. If either Swayman or Vladar really turn into the goalie of the future then that could really alter Boston’s thinking moving forward, particularly if they are hesitant to invest big dollars or long term on a goaltender that’s been a little unpredictable over the last few years.

Long story short, I think Rask will be mentally sharp this season in his tandem with Jaroslav Halak. And I don’t expect the same kind of issues that popped up in the playoffs because it looks like the Bruins may avoid the bubble scenario this time around. But it’s a very unpredictable situation that will bear watching this season, for sure.

Hey Joe, now that the NHL season looks to be a go, just wondering what you think about the potential of another year of expanded playoffs. As well, what might be the likelihood of such?

–Adam Pusiak (via Facebook fan page)

JH: I don’t think we’ll see expanded playoffs, unfortunately. I actually would love to see some play-in/qualifying series like we saw last year, but logistically it’s really not easy to do given that you would need round-robin games for the top seeds while things played out in a qualifying round. Maybe the NHL and NHLPA will figure out a way to construct that in the future, but the hesitation is very tangible when it comes to messing with a Stanley Cup Playoff structure that really isn’t broken.

Now, if there’s another pause to the entire regular season due to COVID-19 complications then that could theoretically be introduced again as it was last season. But if the NHL and the Boston Bruins can get through the entire season without a league-wide shut-down, I just don’t see it in the cards. I’d love to see it make a return in some form or fashion in the future, though.

Do you see Beecher as a legitimate butt-kicking prospect or bottom 6 Frederic type defense & protector #HaggBag

–Smokey @_CivilServant_)

JH: I think Johnny Beecher has more offensive upside than Trent Frederic simply based on his skating speed. That ability to cover huge chunks of ice with his long, fluid strides is going to open up tons of goal-scoring chances for him, and then the question will become whether he can become a finisher with those chances. Does he become a Daniel Paille-type player that gets tons of chances because of his speed but simply doesn’t have the hands to finish them off? Or does he develop into a Chris Kreider-type player that uses power, speed and skill to be an effective goal-scorer at the NHL level?

I like Frederic as a bottom-6 power forward with the Boston Bruins that can make the occasional play offensively, but he doesn’t have any one tool, aside from his size and strength, that’s going to really generate offense for him consistently.

We’ll see how he develops at Michigan and how he performs for Team USA at the World Juniors, but I’d say it’s still incomplete as to what he’s going to be at the NHL level. My opinion: He’s got a pro-style game where he could really blossom offensively at the NHL level.

Have B’s given up on Bjork? Was really hoping to see him run at LW with Coyle and Smith. #HaggBag

–Mike C (@mcolesr)

JH: Well, I think he could be the guy filling in for a rehabbing David Pastrnak with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand to start the season. But as we’ve seen recently, Anders Bjork seems to have an issue finishing off offensive chances at the NHL level. It may that he becomes a speedy third line winger that occasionally pops in goals while using his speed to control possession, spur turnovers and disrupt the other team. But if that’s the case then Bjork is going to continue to need to get grittier in all aspects of his game. But I could certainly see Bjork and Nick Ritchie alternating in the lineup on the third line depending on matchups or depending on what kind of injuries crop up.

Let’s not forget that there could be a lot of changes in the lineup due to COVID-19, regular injuries or changes to the NHL schedule due to COVID-19 as we go along here. Bjork is going to get his chances, but he needs to either develop some goal-scoring ability or get a little more sandpaper to his game if he’s hoping to stick at the NHL level for the long term.

Billy’s or Liberty Bell?

–CTI Cabling Technologies (@cabletechmass)

JH: This is Sophie’s Choice. I used to work at Liberty Bell in Stoneham delivering pizzas and the former owners (Teddy and Minoli) used to let me drive their Porsche to deliver pizzas around town when my car was in the shop. And I was raised on their roast beef subs. They now have an excellent restaurant in Melrose. But Billy’s Roast Beef is probably my favorite roast beef place on the entire North Shore. If I was on deathbed with only one more roast beef sandwich available, I’d probably pick Billy’s Roast Beef. But Liberty Bell is great with a huge menu of other really good stuff to eat besides roast beef, and their roast beef is excellent as well. How is that for a diplomatic answer?

Money appears to be in tight for Sweeney. May explain why he’s stood pat…for the most part. Is Sweeney done adding FAs? Trades likely perhaps? How else can they improve?

–JG (@jgold20024)

JH: At this point, I think a trade is more likely than a free agent signing. I just don’t get the sense they have left room to bring in Mike Hoffman even if he’s a proven 30-goal scorer that the Bruins would be able to get for great value on a one-year deal.

I think if the Bruins swing a deal, it will be for an experienced top-4 defenseman that they can plug into the left side. Perhaps Hoffman becomes an option if the Bruins had to deal a top-6 forward piece in order to make that kind of deal happen, but I’d say the Oliver Ekman-Larsson-type trade is the most likely move for the Boston Bruins if they do anything of significance prior to the start of the 2020-21 NHL regular season.

I’m not sure I totally buy that the Bruins have been told to curb their spending budget because they are within $3.6 million of the salary cap ceiling right now and they could still spend more money before, or during, this upcoming season. They are going to be a cap team again this year and that’s a credit to the commitment of Bruins ownership during a rough financial landscape.

Would love to hear your #HaggBag current thoughts on the Bs’ D corp. If a couple of the youngsters (next level; Lauzon, Urho Vaakanainen, Connor Clifton) don’t step up big, we’re in trouble, right? And best Avengers MCU villain, no contest; Obadiah Stane

–achurchill (@achurchill)

JH: Yeah, I am very skeptical of the rebuild the Bruins are going to undertake on the back end. But I will say this, there are plenty of hockey people I’ve talked to that think they can become a much more mobile, offensively viable unit if they go younger, faster and more skilled. That’s no knock on Zdeno Chara at all because I think they’re going to miss him on the penalty kill, and they will miss him late in games when they are protecting leads. Not to mention, they will also miss his intimidating presence in the lineup where he was clearly a protector for Boston’s skilled players.

There is zero question in my mind that opponents will be bolder taking liberties and taking runs if Big Zee isn’t patrolling the blue line. But Chara is also 43 years old and very clearly lost at least a half-step last season and going younger and faster could really benefit Bruce Cassidy’s up-tempo style and the creativity he’s looking to see from his defensemen moving forward.

It was clear the Boston Bruins needed to make some changes to this core group moving forward and they’ve very clearly decided to do that on the back end. So, let’s see how it all plays out and give them a few things to sort things out.

And Obadiah Stane? Really? I love the Big Lebowski as much as anybody, but Jeff Bridges is not even in the top pantheon of MCU villains and I can’t remember Stane ever really being a big deal against the Avengers. I still love Ultron as my all-time top Avengers villain from a comic storyline in the 1970’s where it appeared that he had defeated, or even killed, all of the Avengers.

James Spader was pretty good as the MCU Ultron, but he definitely wasn’t my favorite villain in the movies thus far. That would probably be Loki, Michael Keaton’s Vulture or Kingpin from the Daredevil series.

If the NHL owners don’t want to play, it’s pretty cut and dry. They pay Gary Bettman to steer the direction of the league on their behalf. I personally think they should just wait until fall to play. Why try to rush a half-ass effort at the season with so much to risk.

–Chris Horne (via Facebook fan page)

JH: Who says it’s going to be half-ass? A 56-game season with a full playoff that starts in mid-January is even more hockey than we got during the 2013 lockout season when the Boston Bruins ended up getting all the way to the Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks.

I think skipping an entire season would be very detrimental to the NHL, to their owners, to the players and to everybody involved with the world of hockey. It’s worth the stretch and I think it was always worth the stretch for the owners and players, particularly if fans begin to be allowed to fill into the arena as the season progresses.

If we can have half-full arenas by June or July at playoff time? That would be well worth it for everybody involved provided the weak sister NHL franchises can handle the economic fallout until things get a little closer to normal. Who knows how quickly things will open up in the pro sports world once the vaccine is widely available? But I don’t get arguing in favor of punting on the season. It could do damage that the NHL might never recover from if they sat out while the other three major pro sports continued to keep playing.

#HaggBag Do you think Ultron and Thanos together could beat The Avengers? Also, what do you think the Krug departure will mean to the upcoming season?

–Keith Dotson (@BigDot69)

JH: An Ultron and Thanos tag team could definitely beat the low-rent Avengers of the 1980’s where they had Starfox, Wasp, Captain Marvel, Vision, Scarlet Witch and She-Hulk. Those Avengers of my comic book-collecting youth kind of sucked. But the Mighty Avengers with Thor, Captain America, Iron Man along with a compliment of supporting players (Black Panther, Ant-Man, Wasp, Beast etc.) around them? I don’t think any combination of super villains could take them down, even though I’d like to see the battle happen.

The Krug departure is going to have offensive consequences for the Boston Bruins next season. There isn’t a defenseman among that group right now capable of posting the 10 goals/50 points that he customarily produced for the B’s year-in, year-out, and they are going to miss that to start next season while they sort out their back-end picture.

Right now, nobody among their D-men has even scored as many as 35 points in a regular season before, so they are going to need Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk to step up in a big way if they’re going to get offense from their D-men. And nobody knows if they can do that. They deserve a chance to prove that they can step up offensively as developing young players, but the pressure is going to be on them to produce on the PP and during even strength play.

Who knows? Maybe the opportunity will allow McAvoy to take things to the next level with his obvious offensive skills all there? And Grzelcyk is certainly capable of handling things on the PP as he’s shown when Krug has been out. But there will be big questions until they are able to prove they have the answers.

That’s it for the Hagg Bag this week, we’ll see you at the rinks.

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Rick W Murray

Sweeney better get busy and do some signing and dealing. As it stands right now the bruins aren’t going anywhere with this lineup!

[…] Joe Haggerty of Boston Hockey Now: (mailbag) There is still time for the Boston Bruins to make some moves to improve their roster. So far this offseason they haven’t done anything to improve. […]

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