UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The Bruins didn’t practice or chat with reporters on Tuesday, after returning from their season-opening road trip. So we wait to hear the status of defenseman Matt Grzelcyk, whose injury has not been disclosed.
Grzelcyk, who missed the final 14:17 of Monday’s 1-0 loss on Long Island, appeared to wrench his left shoulder as he fell on his forearm and elbow during a tangle with Islander Jordan Eberle. While at Boston University (in 2014), the Charlestown product had left shoulder surgery.
Missing him for an extended period would be difficult for the Bruins, who rely on Grzelcyk to run the first-unit power play and play even-strength shifts with Brandon Carlo. The resulting shuffle, if Grzelcyk can’t play in Thursday’s home opener against the Flyers, might see John Moore, Connor Clifton, or Urho Vaakanainen enter the lineup.
Moore might be the most stable option of that trio, given his experience and his handedness (left, like Grzelcyk). Clifton played well in camp but shoots right. Vaakanainen doesn’t have Moore’s experience (seven career games to Moore’s 532), which may matter for a unit already breaking in newcomers Jeremy Lauzon and Jakub Zboril.
Offense has been hard to come by, with Grzelcyk adjusting to an elevated role in the post-Torey Krug era (and with returning leading scorer David Pastrnak expected to miss a few more weeks). So if Grzelcyk has a multi-week injury, what about taking a swing at Keith Yandle, the veteran power-play quarterback who has reportedly fallen out of favor with the new management team in Florida? Before the mind runs wild: I don’t see that happening.
No doubt Yandle has been productive, averaging 50 points a year over the last decade. He put up a career-high 62 points (nine goals, 53 assists) in 2018-19. He hasn’t missed a game since March 26, 2009, giving him the league’s longest active iron man streak (867 games entering Tuesday). That kind of durability earns him respect across NHL dressing rooms. It stands to reason that the Milton-raised 34-year-old wouldn’t mind spending the latter years of his career at home.
Yandle, a left shot, could be a fit on the Bruins’ power play. But that’s about where the theoretically smooth transition would end. Even if Yandle agreed to waive his no-movement clause, the Panthers would have to eat a chunk of his $6.35 million cap hit for the Bruins (current cap space, according to CapFriendly: about $2 million) to accommodate him.
Also complicating matters: Yandle’s contract runs out in 2023. The Bruins are not likely to take on long-term deals, given the flexibility they will have — and need to have — in the coming years, with Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, Charlie McAvoy, and Carlo all due for new deals by the start of the 2022-23 season. Pastrnak, currently a bargain at $6.67 million a season, will be due a big raise at the end of 2023.
Yandle is a top-tier power play quarterback and puck-mover. But would the Bruins want an aging specialist blocking the development of Zboril, who would be in line for more PP reps if Grzelcyk misses time, or McAvoy, or Grzelcyk himself when he returns? Doubtful. We saw shades of this with Krug — like Yandle but a better, more competitive defender, who was a career-long Bruin. The Bruins wanted to see what they had, unless a better left-side fit became available.
Yandle, given his age and profile, doesn’t seem to fit that bill.
In his season debut under Panthers coach Joel Quenneville, Yandle played 12:13 at five on five. Of the 191 defensemen to skate a shift this year, that’s the 14th lowest. It speaks to how his coaches trust him. Unless Yandle turned over a new leaf, it’s easy to imagine Bruce Cassidy having to be the bad guy, and break his streak by making him a healthy scratch.
It is not the situation either side wants.