When last we saw the Bruins, they pinned a 2-0 loss on the Flyers in Philadelphia on March 10, with Tuukka Rask closing off 36 shots for career shutout No. 50.
Now, 116 days later (as of Sunday), the team time forgot could be back together next weekend for the first time in the pandemic era. Upward of 35 players, including at least four goalies, should be in attendance when coach Bruce Cassidy calls camp to order at the club’s Warrior/Brighton arena.
For all the puck-craved souls out there, never has the prospect of reading about line rushes and PK drills felt so good.
Health-wise, other than the continued absence of injured defenseman Kevan Miller, Cassidy will be working with a well-rested and healthy lineup (pending COVID-19 results). Second-pairing defensemen Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo were sidelined by injury for that last game in Philly that was placed into a time capsule, but both reported in subsequent Zoom sessions with the media in recent weeks that they expect to be full go for training camp.
Cassidy noted Monday that he’ll be inclined to keep the game plan simple, working off the template that had his Black and Gold No. 1 in the overall standings when the league went into sleep mode.
With the start of the round-robin tourney (Boston-Washington-Philadelphia-Tampa Bay) less than a month away, there are but a few obvious issues for Cassidy to sort out before the group ships off to the designated hub away from the Hub:
▪ Yet again, who will be ride with second-line pivot David Krejci? Krejci will be retired for a decade and the mayor of Prague, and we’ll still be asking this one. Jake DeBrusk has been the best fit on the left side, but the deadline acquisitions of Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase — both former Ducks — could have Cassidy getting a refreshed look at Krejci’s left and right. If so, DeBrusk, about to become a restricted free agent, likely drops down to play left side on Charlie Coyle’s trio.
▪ Who partners with Matt Grzelcyk on the No. 3 defense unit? Unlike recent seasons, the Bruins are deep on D as the dawn of the postseason approaches. Gryz can ride with Connor Clifton, Jeremy Lauzon, or even John Moore. The bet here: Cassidy goes with Lauzon, who has played in only 35 career games but shown a little more upside that initially expected.
▪ Rask or Jaroslav Halak as the everyday goaltender? It should be Rask, Rask, and more Rask. Remember, he made every start in last year’s 24-game playoff run. But keep in mind, like all clubs, the Bruins are looking to come in hot. They have every reason to think Rask will be ready to go off the hop. If not, they have enough confidence in Halak — now with a one-year contract extension in hand — to handle all tasks, big or small.
The potential lineup roster:
Patrice Bergeron, Anders Bjork, Coyle, DeBrusk, Kase, Krejci, Karson Kuhlman, Sean Kuraly, Par Lindholm, Brad Marchand, Joakim Nordstrom, David Pastrnak, Ritchie, and Chris Wagner.
Carlo, Zdeno Chara, Clifton, Grzelcyk, Krug, Lauzon, Charlie McAvoy, and Moore.
They’re talking a good game
As the weekend approached, the league and the Players’ Association were still scratching away at a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in regard to a four-year extension (though 2025–26) of the collective bargaining agreement (the document otherwise known as the owners’ lockout cudgel).
It’s that MOU, followed quickly by a rank-and-file vote on the CBA, that ultimately will determine whether the Bruins (and the other 23 franchises still doing business) open training camp Friday. If the voting gets delayed, camp could start, say, 24–72 hours later, provided the package is ratified.
If the package is not ratified, then the wait grows longer, and longer, and . . . the entire return-to-play plan could crash.
Mood around the bargaining table was upbeat as the weekend approached. But the nature of collective bargaining, particularly given the history between the parties the last quarter-century, is always tenuous. It can blow up faster than a bottle rocket.
As of Friday afternoon, the Bruins had not released a training camp roster, nor had they made public the names of the half-dozen or so players they intend to promote from AHL Providence, ostensibly as practice extras.
Bruce Cassidy this past week said he expected to add at least two goalies, Dan Vladar and Max Lagace, and also said that Kyle Keyser was a possibility.
Up front, some of the likely add-ons would be Jack Studnicka, Paul Carey, Brendan Gaunce, Trent Frederic, Oskar Steen, and possibly Peter Cehlarik. Back liners could include Alex Petrovic, Jakub Zboril, and Urho Vaakanainen.
Clubs are expected to be limited to a traveling party of 50, including all players and surrounding personnel, once shipping off to the conference hubs (likely Edmonton for the West and Toronto for the East). Again, the league as of Friday afternoon was withholding the release of such granular details with the MOU still an unfinished document.
The wait is almost over. We think. For now, all eyes are trained on the color of the that puff of smoke from the CBA bargaining table, and ears trained to hear the sweet thud of rubber on the walls of Warrior.
These high picks have been top shelf
The tumble of the ping-pong balls a week ago Friday night came up a pair of aces for the Senators, who walked away with picks 3 and 5 in the draft scheduled to take place in October.
There’s a chance both picks will yield 18-year-olds who can plug directly into the Ottawa lineup and provide the kind of pop the listing franchise needs to prop back into playoff contention. That’s a huge ask for a couple of kids the age of a typical college freshman. But it’s the kind of “impact” talent we’ve come to expect from the upper echelon of the draft.
Prime examples from this cross-section of players across five draft years, 2010-14, all of whom were chosen with the third pick or later in their respective entry drafts:
2010 — Jeff Skinner, No. 7, Carolina.
2011 — Sean Couturier, No. 8, Philadelphia.
2012 — Alex Galchenyuk, No. 3, Montreal.
2013 — Seth Jones, No. 4, Nashville; Elias Lindholm, No. 5, Carolina; Sean Monahan, No. 6, Calgary.
2014 — Leon Draisaitl, No. 3, Edmonton; David Pastrnak, No. 25, Boston.
Within months of their June draft, all eight of those first-rounders were full-time NHLers, making significant impact by the end of their rookie seasons. Draisaitl just won the 2019-20 NHL scoring title (43-67—110), his second straight season of 100-plus points, while Pastrnak tied Alex Ovechkin for most goals (48) and has delivered 180 goals in his first six seasons.
Every draft has its hits and misses, particularly because the playing stock is so young, but a pair of solid hits have the potential to revivify the Senators.
TSN commentator Craig Button, a former Flames general manager, in his post-lottery commentary Friday night eyeballed Tim Stuetzle, a 6-foot-1-inch forward who played last season in Mannheim, and 5-9 Ottawa 67s center Marco Rossi, the OHL’s leading scorer last season, as the two players the Senators most likely grab.
Rimouski winger Alexis Lafreniere is the prohibitive favorite to go No. 1 (team to be announced), and Button figures Los Angeles in the No. 2 slot will grab Quinton Byfield, the 6-4 center with OHL Sudbury. The Red Wings (No. 4), by Button’s figuring, will opt for Jamie Drysdale, a 5-11 defenseman with OHL Erie, his game very similar to that of Torey Krug — who is a likely target of the Red Wings if he reaches unrestricted free agency.
The Senators, 25-34-12 this season, also could select a third time in Round 1, depending on what happens to the Islanders in their play-in series against the Panthers. The Islanders gave up a lottery-protected first-rounder to acquire Jean-Gabriel Pageau from Ottawa in February. If the Islanders win their best-of-five series, the Senators will be on the clock for a third pick (possibly in the high teens or low 20s).
According to the NHL, five other clubs slated to participate in the play-in round also surrendered first-round picks ahead of the draft. However, like the Islanders, those picks were lottery-protected. The Sharks no doubt wish they attached that covenant to what turned into the No. 3 pick, but they didn’t figure their plummet would be so steep when they swapped for ex-Senators sensation Erik Karlsson.
Because they owned the two picks heading into the lottery, the Senators had the best chance (25 percent) of landing the No. 1 pick. The Red Wings, though they owned the worst record (17-49-5), entered the night with an 18.5 percent chance of hitting leadoff.
In his Zoom session with Red Wings and NHL beat reporters Friday night, a somewhat subdued Steve Yzerman did his best to suppress any disappointment over slipping from No. 1 to 4.
“They gotta do what they gotta do,” said Stevie Y, referring to how the NHL structured the lottery. “Anything I say is going to be self-serving.”
Of the No. 4 pick — be it Drysdale or someone else — Yzerman said, “I think we are going to get a great prospect, and hopefully that prospect turns into a player that can move the needle” on rebuilding the franchise.
There are no guarantees, of course, even with the deemed sure shot Lafreniere (35-77—112 as the leading scorer and MVP in the “Q” this year).
The Senators, after only one year in the league, were ready to chart a Cup parade through Ottawa when they entered the 1993 draft with the No. 1 pick, by virtue or a 10-70-4 death march in their inaugural season. Montreal-born Alexandre Daigle, fresh off a 137-point season with Victoriaville in the Q, was primed to be the franchise savior.
Indeed, Daigle went No. 1, and the Senators’ news release heralding his signing was issued within minutes of his selection that day in June. Turned out, Daigle was more millstone than cornerstone, and the Senators moved him to the Flyers midway through his fifth NHL season.
Special lacking in 2-for-1
Dating to the start of the universal NHL entry draft in 1969, only seven times have teams made two of the top five picks — with the Bruins doing it twice.
In June 1970, just weeks after winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in 29 years, the Bruins picked off wingers Reggie Leach and Rick MacLeish with picks 3 and 4, respectively. They owned the picks via trades swung by GM Milt Schmidt with the expansion Kings and Flyers.
Gary Young, then the Bruins’ chief scout, assessing the two hot prospects that day with legendary Globe beat man Tom Fitzgerald after the draft inside the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal:
Leach — “Reg’s strong point is a quick movement to the blue line that would remind you a little of Rocket Richard.”
MacLeish — “One of those thread-the-needle-shooters.”
Just as in 2020, the headliner of the ’70 draft was a Quebec League kid, Gilbert Perreault, who quickly went on to center the famed French Connection Line in Buffalo. With the magical Perreault between Rene Robert and Rick Martin, the upstart Sabres made it to the Cup Final in the spring of ’75.
They’ve made it back only once more in their 50 years.
Leach and MacLeish went on to play a combined 1,780 games and pump home 730 goals. Only nine of those goals (all off Leach’s stick) were scored for the Bruins.
Both had their best years in Philadelphia, where MacLeish won the Cup twice with the Broad Street Bullies (1974, ‘75), and Leach won one (‘75) after being dealt there by Charlie Finley’s Golden Seals.
MacLeish was first to be dealt out of Boston, shipped to the Flyers on Jan. 31, 1971, for Mike “Shakey” Walton. Leach went just over a year later, near the February ’72 trade deadline, joining Bob Stewart in the swap that yielded Carol Vadnais and Don O’Donoghue from the Seals. Young by that time had moved on to become the Seals’ GM.
Vadnais helped stabilize the Boston back line and was a key addition for the successful ’72 Cup run. But no telling how many more times the Bruins would have lifted the big mug had Leach and MacLeish remained on Causeway.
In ’69, the Bruins also chose picks 3 (Don Tannahill) and 4 (Frank Spring). Both enjoyed only brief NHL careers. Tannahill never played for Boston. Spring played one game in 1969-70, then was lost to the Flyers in the ’71 intraleague draft.
Otherwise, the only other four franchises to own two picks among the top five:
1969 — Montreal: 1. Rejean Houle; 2. Marc Tardif. 1988 — Quebec: 3. Curtis Leschyshyn; 5. Daniel Dore. 1997 — NY Islanders: 4. Roberto Luongo; 5. Eric Brewer. 1999 — Vancouver: 2. Daniel Sedin; 3. Henrik Sedin. 2000 — NY Islanders: 1. Rick DiPietro; 5. Raffi Torres.
The best bang for the buck turned out to be the Sedin twins, who never won a Cup with the Canucks, but finished with more than 1,000 points each before retiring in the summer of 2018. Both are eligible for Hall of Fame consideration on next June’s ballot.
Quebec’s picks in ’88 were unspectacular, particularly considering they had the chance to select the likes of Mark Recchi, Temmu Selanne, Jeremy Roenick, Rod Brind’Amour, or Alex Mogilny, all of whom finished with more than 1,000 points.
As for the Bruins in ’70, not only did they dish Leach and MacLeish, they snubbed Darryl Sittler, who stayed on the board until the Maple Leafs claimed him at No. 8.
The draft can be a cruel science.
The Kings, elated to win the No. 2 spot in the lottery, have done OK with their pair of No. 2s in prior drafts. In 1986, they selected Jimmy Carson, who was soon included in the bundle that brought Wayne Gretzky to LA. Then in 2008, after the Lightning picked off Steven Stamkos at No. 1, Kings GM Dean Lombardi grabbed blue line stalwart Drew Doughty, whose presence helped the Crowns win the Cup in ’12 and ’14 . . . Swiss-born Nico Hischier was the last Quebec League kid to go No. 1 overall (New Jersey, 2017). There have been nine other No. 1s out of the Q since 1969: Guy Lafleur, Montreal, ’71; Dale Hawerchuk, Winnipeg, ’81; Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh, ’84; Pierre Turgeon, Buffalo, ’87; Alexandre Daigle, Ottawa, ’93; Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay, ’98; Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh, 2003; Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh, ’05; and Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado, ’13 . . . July 1 had NHL clubs doling out some $300 million in signing bonuses for contracts covering the 2020-21 season. The Bruins were approximately 50 percent below the league average, doling out $4.7 million to Patrice Bergeron ($1 million), David Pastrnak ($1 million), Brad Marchand ($1 million), Charlie McAvoy ($1 million), Jaroslav Halak ($500,000), Connor Clifton ($100,000), and Jeremy Lauzon ($100,000) . . . The Bruins last year lost Game 7 of the Cup Final on June 12, then opened their exhibition season Sept. 16, only 96 days removed from their final shift. They’ve already exceeded that break by three weeks. Ready for some hockey?