This is the second in an intermittent offseason series of articles looking at impending Boston Bruins free agents and whether they will be “staying or going” when it comes time for the B’s to make a decision.
The Case: Boston Bruins defenseman Steve Kampfer has been an excellent pro for the B’s over the last few years playing a largely thankless reserve role.
The 32-year-old has basically played the last three seasons as the spare defenseman for the Black and Gold, who only plays in short, unpredictable bursts and cedes the bulk of the NHL playing time to younger D-men ahead of him on the organizational depth chart.
Despite all that, Kampfer consistently performed when called upon in emergencies even if he’d essentially sat out for weeks or months at a time in between lineup stints.
It’s a challenging role to be sure, and one that a younger defenseman would likely struggle with given the experience, mental toughness and selflessness required to fill a reserve role. Kampfer’s best year in Boston was when he suited up for 35 games during the 2018-19 regular season with three goals and six points, and even scored a goal in three playoff games that spring.
The rub with Kampfer has always been that his play flattens out after a few games when given extended NHL playing time, but he’s been consistently solid when called upon in a pinch. This past season wasn’t nearly as productive or satisfying for Kampfer or for the Bruins, however.
The 32-year-old lived away from his young family during the entire hockey season due to COVID-19 concerns, and then his season ended prematurely with hand surgery just prior to the Stanley Cup playoffs. The undermanned, bruised Boston Bruins defensemen corps certainly could have used Kampfer during the playoffs, particularly once they lost Kevan Miller and Brandon Carlo on the right side.
But Kampfer said he simply and unfortunately couldn’t practice or play through the pain before succumbing to surgery at the worst time of year.
“It happened in early March right when I first started playing. I got hit and I played for six weeks on it and then I did all the necessary steps for it. I got a cortisone shot in it to hopefully alleviate the pain and then we moved forward. The pain came back, and it was to the point where I couldn’t play. I couldn’t handle a puck. I couldn’t shoot pucks in practice, and it was tough,” said Kampfer, who estimated he’s still got at least another two months of rehab from hand surgery awaiting him this summer. “It’s tough for any player because you don’t want to take yourself out of an equation. You don’t want to have surgery when you’re getting to that point of the season. It got to the point where we sat down with the trainers and the surgeon, and it was the best thing that we could do moving forward.
“It was extremely tough. Obviously with Brandon and Kevan [injured] in the first round and then the second round where you’re essentially not available to play, it’s tough. You want to play. It’s the best time of year. I think that was the hard part. You want to be available. You want to help the team at any cost. When you can’t, it’s difficult.”
Strangely enough, there were also rumors circulating during the playoffs that Kampfer had already agreed to a contract in the KHL for next season. That kind of a move might make sense for a guy like Kampfer to bank a little money at the tail end of his pro hockey career, but the timing of it all was very strange.
Either way it feels now like the writing is on the wall that Kampfer won’t be back with the B’s next season, a notion that the defenseman himself seemed to pick up on in his exit zoom interview with the media.
“My agents talk to [the Boston Bruins]. I haven’t spoken with Sweens about anything. That’s his call. That’s his area. I’ve yet to speak with him, so we’ll go from there. I don’t know,” said Kampfer. “I’ve loved my time in Boston. If this is the end of it, I love the guys in the room, the staff, and we’ll go from there.
“I want to play hockey, obviously. Regardless of where that is, I want to play. I think I have a lot of hockey left in me. I think what happened this year, I guess I got hurt. It was unfortunate. I think the hardest part for me was I was playing, and I was playing well, then I had [to have] surgery.”
Of the KHL, Kampfer would only say he’s been offered contracts to play hockey for next season, without confirming that it was the KHL or not.
Kampfer was adamant that he hadn’t signed anything to this point, and he obviously can’t do anything with the NHL until free agency opens next month.
Staying or Going: Going. Things ended so strangely with Kampfer in Boston that it feels like a certainly he won’t be back. Regardless of whether he goes to the KHL or not, the Boston Bruins are going to miss his ability to play effectively in pockets while alternately sitting for long stretches of time. They’ll need to find another veteran seventh defenseman and that’s a tougher role to fill than one might think while making up an NHL roster.