In peril of falling out of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference, and in need of shaking off a recent 5-6-3 funk, the Bruins on Wednesday placed backup goalie Anton Khudobin on waivers.
Are there more roster changes to come? Quite possibly. By Thursday night, if they lose to the Oilers at TD Garden, the offensively challenged Black and Gold could be without a playoff seed — perhaps on course for missing the postseason for a third consecutive season.
Meanwhile, it’s possible the Bruins will have the recently concussed David Backes back in uniform as early as Thursday night. Backes, 32, was a surprise participant at practice Wednesday, back at work less than a week after being dealt what he revealed after the workout as being at least his fourth career concussion.
Backes, who went the full 40-minute workout at Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton, has been medically cleared to play. Coach Claude Julien said a decision on playing him will be made Thursday, as it will be important to review how the veteran center/wing responds in the 24-30 hours after the workout.
For his part, Backes sounded eager but guarded, wise for a man who also noted with a sense of humor that neuroscience has yet to conjure up replacement parts for gray matter.
“We don’t do brain transplants yet,” he said. “That might be for good reason — you never know which one you’re going to get.”
The move to place Khudobin on waivers — and likely to summon prospect Zane McIntyre from AHL Providence as Tuukka Rask’s backup — was a clear attempt by the front office to convey a sense of urgency in the dressing room.
If the Bruins were to maintain their pace of the last month (a lackluster .464 winning percentage) for the 42 games remaining in the regular season, they would complete 2016-17 with 83 points. In the oft-used words of team president Cam Neely, that dog don’t hunt.
With 83 points, the Bruins would assuredly fall short of a playoff berth, potentially triggering the most widespread change in the front office, and perhaps the roster, since the 2005-06 season when Mike O’Connell was broomed out as general manager and replaced by Peter Chiarelli.
GM Don Sweeney’s mandate at this hour is to find more scoring, ideally in the form of a large, gritty winger, one who might be able to breathe some life into the club’s power play (ranked 27th).
But such an order is a near-impossible task in today’s game. Impact trades and free agent acquisitions are made almost exclusively in a three- or four-week window beginning in late June, around the time of the draft.
Sweeney’s best hope of landing an impact scorer would be at the trade deadline Feb. 28. But a move with 19 games to go may well be too late.
What Sweeney has to hope in the immediate is that waiving Khudobin, a favorite among teammates, sends a message in the locker room.
“They have to know that; they should know that,” said Julien, asked if his charges needed the sense of urgency underscored to them at this juncture of the season. “When you’re at this level here, it’s not viewed as kindergarten.
“Everybody has a job to do and I can’t ask them if they are looking at the standings or not. It’s their responsibility as pros to keep up with what is going on around the league. We do talk about it. We mention it. We say things like that, but we certainly don’t make it a daily checkup.”
Julien met with the media immediately after practice, prior to the club issuing a press release on Khudobin being placed on waivers. The gregarious 30-year-old Russian stopper turned in lackluster numbers (1-5-1, 3.06, .885) before Sweeney made the move.
Provided he clears waivers, Khudobin likely will be assigned to Providence, where McIntyre was recently named AHL Goalie of the Month. McIntrye then would be the favorite to join the varsity, perhaps in time for Thursday night’s game.
“I don’t think he’s played to the level that we know he can,” Julien said of Khudobin. “I don’t know if I want to use the term [disappointing], but we know he is capable of being a better goaltender than we’ve seen.”
Khudobin last played in a Dec. 23 overtime loss in Carolina, where he was staked to an early 2-0 lead and then failed to come up with a big save or two that could have delivered a victory.
He was sidelined for a month earlier this season after sustaining a hand/wrist injury during practice Oct. 24. His lone victory came Dec. 1, a 2-1 shootout win over Carolina at the Garden in which he turned aside 29 shots.
Khudobin was signed in the offseason as a free agent, to a deal paying him a total of $2.4 million over two seasons.
McIntyre, 24, had a short stint with Boston earlier this season and went 0-2-0 in his three games. The former University of North Dakota standout is a second-year pro and has been stellar with Providence this season, going 10-0-0, 1.41, .951.