The Bruins expect to have potentially five goalies, including veterans Tuukka Rask and Jaro Halak, in uniform for the start of training camp, expected to be July 10 at Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton.
Coach Bruce Cassidy, speaking to the media via Zoom Monday morning, noted that Dan Vladar, Max Lagace, and possibly Kyle Keyser will be the additional goaltenders available for workouts.
Ex-Maine goalie Jeremy Swayman, who recently signed his first contract with the Bruins, likely is ineligible, noted Cassidy, since he was not under contract prior to the NHL suspending operations March 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Otherwise, said Cassidy, the goalies will be joined by 28-30 forwards and defensemen for training camp, which is expected to last most of the remainder of July prior to the club shipping off to one of two “hub” city locations that will play host to the NHL playoffs for August, September, and part of October.
As of Monday afternoon, the NHL had yet to finalize the two hub locations from a working list of five cities: Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Edmonton, and Toronto.
The league intends to open camps July 10, but reports over the weekend suggested the start could be delayed 48-72 hours. As with most details connected to the ambitious return-to-play plan, all dates must be considered fluid — in part because players ultimately will vote on all the conditions.
Cassidy was reluctant to name the handful of extra skaters, the so-called “Black Aces” who will be added to the working roster that was in place when play was halted. The extras will be recruited from the AHL Providence lineup, adding support for the two dozen or so players on the varsity roster.
“I don’t want to get into the last 7-8 guys,” said Cassidy, “because I don’t know if they’ve been notified yet. So I’m not at liberty to tell you that.”
Among forwards, likely candidates would be Jack Studnicka, Paul Carey, Brendan Gaunce, Peter Cehlarik, Trent Frederic, and Oskar Steen. Among the backliners: Alex Petrovic, Jakub Zboril, and Urho Vaakanainen.
Leaguewide, players who are uncomfortable with the idea of returning to play amid the pandemic will be allowed not to report, without fear of retribution. Thus far, said Cassidy, none of the Bruins has voiced a concern, leading him to believe he’ll have his full squad in uniform for the opening day of practice.
“The message for us hasn’t changed in terms of what our ultimate goal is, our unfinished business to be Stanley Cup champions,” said Cassidy. “Inside of that message will be a lot of the unknown and how we have to be prepared to deal with that as it comes at us.”
Some of the variables are how all of this will affect players’ families, how long players will be in hub cities, and whether they will be able to see or visit with their families while there.
“Right now we don’t have all the answers to that,” added Cassidy, “but we’ll certainly try to uncover them before [camp starts] and see what the process is. That is going to be the message.
“I think the mental toughness is going to end up determining who raises that trophy at the end of the day, and that’s where I like our chances.”
After a four-month layoff, and with the intensity of the playoffs to be an abrupt wakeup call, simplicity will be a governing force for the start of camps.
“We’re not going to introduce a whole lot of new concepts,” acknowledged Cassidy, whose club ranked No. 1 in the overall standings when play was suspended. “Even though [as a coach] you’ve had lot of time to dream up a lot of different things, I don’t know if it’s the best time, with a short turnaround and a lot on the line, to start messing too much with your game.”
Cassidy brought up Keyser’s name as a possibility to join as a fifth goaltender, but also noted that the first-year pro from Florida had been dealing with an injury when play was halted in March. He was unsure of the 21-year-old’s status … Prior to shipping off to the designated hub city, the Bruins will have to pare down to a hard roster number, likely 28 forwards and defensemen. The league has not put a limit on goalies because of the underlying risk of positive COVID-19 tests, leaving a club at risk of not having enough personnel … Rask started all 24 of the club’s playoff games last season … If a player were to inform the club he was uncomfortable with returning to action, Cassidy said, a team doctor would attempt to alleviate his concerns. “But at the end of the day, if that’s the way they feel, I think we have to honor the request,” said the coach.
The players, Cassidy figures, will be excited to get back to work. “Our guys love coming to the rink,” he said. “They have a workmanlike mentality to begin with, so I think all that stuff will fall into place. It’s just going to be the unknown at the end of the day: How many times do you test, how frequent are the tests, what time of day, does it affect your routine, are you allowed to congregate in the gym? I think those are going to be the hurdles for us as coaches to get them over, where there isn’t a lot of griping. Because it’s going to be different. We have to make sure we get the players in a good state of mind in terms of focusing on what we can control.” … Still unknown: How clubs will engage the media during training camp and then the playoffs. “I don’t know what that will look like, to be honest with you,” said Cassidy. “How you guys will be situated, I’m not sure. I assume they’ll place you 6 feet apart. Will masks be required? All good questions, and right now, I don’t have the answers. There has to be availability, I mean, we are trying to sell the game, correct? And it’s the best time of the year — playoff hockey. So I imagine they’ll find a way to make it work, so you can report on the game and get some conversation with key players within the game.”