The Bruins’ 2017-18 roster should have room for a few kids, especially at forward, provided they have something to offer on their résumé beyond a date of birth in the late 1990s.
Youth will be served, said general manager Don Sweeney, but they have to be kids who are ready to do the job.
“I don’t think just putting a young player in the lineup for the sake of describing the fact that you want to play young players is the right thing to do,” said Sweeney, who held his end-of-season press conference Thursday at the Garden.
“They have to be good players in order to do that. They have to deserve the opportunity and take advantage of the opportunity. They have to push another player out of a job.”
For any kid looking for Black-and-Gold work next season, the roster space held in 2016-17 by Jimmy Hayes and Matt Beleskey would be prime acreage of opportunity. Both vastly underperformed, and one or both could be targeted for a buyout, although Sweeney chose not to comment on whether he’ll cashier anyone this summer.
“It’s my job to get them to be better players,” said Bruce Cassidy, who sat next to Sweeney the day after officially being named the 28th coach in franchise history, “and to get them to play to their level.”
Hayes, who didn’t dress for any of the six playoff games vs. the Senators, couldn’t keep pace. He suited up for 58 games in the regular season and produced an anemic line of 2-3—5. He was all but mothballed when Sweeney acquired Drew Stafford form Winnipeg at the trade deadline.
“When I first took over, I think Jimmy was a minus-12,” said Cassidy, who was named to replace Claude Julien on an interim basis Feb. 7. “He got himself back even [minus-3 for the season]. He might not have had the offensive numbers, but I think he helped contribute to the [third] line.”
Upon the arrival of Stafford, who played up and down the lineup, on both wings, the lumbering Hayes couldn’t buy a shift.
“He obviously wasn’t in,” noted Cassidy. “That’s a decision I made to go with more of a forechecking presence down the stretch, or playoffs.”
Cassidy was blunt when relaying what he said to Beleskey in Wednesday’s exit interview.
“What we’re looking for from Matt is to get back to where he was in terms of a good, solid, physical guy that can chip in offensively,” said Cassidy, who brought Beleskey back in Game 6 because David Krejci was injured. “With his [knee] injury, he was always playing catch-up. “
Beleskey, a candidate for a trade or a buyout, was told in the exit interview to return here in September and be ready to go off the hop. He clearly wasn’t prepared last season, his offense nonexistent in the two months leading to his knee injury at the start of December. He finished with a line of 49 games, 3-5—8, and minus-10.
“We’ve got to get him going from Day 1,” said Cassidy. “That was the conversation.
“I will be perfectly honest. We sat down [and said], ‘We need you to be at this level, conditioning-wise and health-wise, right out of the gate.’
“I think it will benefit him. Because when he is able to get there, he is a very effective player. We’ve got to get him to that particular point and I think the rest will take care of itself.”
Meanwhile, training camp should be loaded with young guns eager to fill a potential void. The likes of Sean Kuraly, Noel Acciari, Tim Schaller, and Frank Vatrano all will be looking to build their ice time. Danton Heinen, Jake DeBrusk, and Austin Czarnik will seek promotions from AHL Providence, along with newbie pro Zach Senyshyn and perhaps Anders Bjork (if signed out of Notre Dame).
Assistants will stay
The Bruins’ three assistant coaches — Jay Pandolfo, Joe Sacco, and Bob Essensa — will return, according to Sweeney.
Cassidy said he will consider candidates for the one open position on his staff. When Cassidy took Julien’s job, his assistant role remained vacant.
“We’ve haven’t got too far in front of it,” said Cassidy. “Joe Sacco moved from the front of the bench to the [defensemen] and I thought did a terrific job. Jay came down from the press box and worked with the forwards . . . in the heat of the battle . . . [all the assistants] were terrific.”
Who’s No. 2?
For a third straight season, Tuukka Rask wore down in the second half, in large part because the coach (be it Julien or Cassidy) was challenged to put faith in his backup.
Anton Khudobin rallied over the final month, encouraging both coach and management, but Sweeney again underscored his conviction not to have the position of backup goalie be a question mark in 2017-18.
“You’d love to see a guy go on a run,” said Sweeney, who is eager to see how Zane McIntyre performs in the AHL playoffs. “We’ve said that about Malcolm [Subban] since he’s been part of this organization. Zane came up and for a couple of games, you thought, ‘He’s got it.’ And then it slipped away from him in the end.
“Nashville, Rangers, Montreal, three examples I thought he played well, had a chance to close out. Again, those are experiences he has to go through at the National Hockey League level.”
Khudobin, said Sweeney, remains “firmly in the mix,” and the GM lauded the affable backup’s work down the stretch.
“But that’s the goalie we need,” he added. “So I can’t have any doubts or reservations. We will meet as a group and make sure we are making the right decision. If someone passes Anton, be it Zane or Malcolm, then we move in that direction.
“It’s a position we’ve sort of been chasing our tail for a couple of years now. I am very aware of it, do not run from it, and I would like it to be resolved.”
Sweeney said Rask (groin injury) and Kevin Millar (shoulder injury) are possible candidates for offseason surgery, but rest might be enough for both to make a full recovery. On Tuesday, veteran center Patrice Bergeron said he played all season with a groin injury and that it may require surgery, but he also hopes that rest will be enough . . . Sweeney said he had yet to tell any of his restricted or unrestricted free agents whether the club had interest in bringing them back. “We’ll sit down as a group and make some decisions,” said Sweeney, who later in the day left town to watch Providence face Wilkes Barre in the AHL playoffs. “We have an idea as we prepare for expansion, but haven’t made a concrete decision and didn’t deliver any of that news [during exit interviews).” UFA veterans Dominic Moore, who will be 37 in August, and John-Michael Liles, 37 in November, are two players likely to be told to look for work elsewhere.
Staying in school?
Bjork (US), Charlie McAvoy (US), and David Pastrnak (Czech Republic) are headed the World Championships (May 5-21). The Bruins continue to negotiate with Bjork, the Notre Dame standout, in hopes that he will eschew his senior year at South Bend and turn pro. “The opportunity is there for him to join us,” said Sweeney, “and we’d like him to. But again, it’s his decision to make at the right time.” If not signed by the Bruins, Bjork can finish his four years at Notre Dame next spring and, if so desired, become eligible for unrestricted free agency in August and continue to negotiate with Boston and the other 30 NHL teams.