The Bruins could go into the 2018-19 season without making another significant move.
Coach Bruce Cassidy might fill the hole at No. 2 right wing with Danton Heinen or Anders Bjork, or maybe Ryan Donato. He could make Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson or Trent Frederic his No. 3 center. The team’s commitment to drafting and developing young talent has yielded viable options. Fourth-line jobs could go to incumbents or new arrivals such as Chris Wagner and Joakim Nordstrom.
An eight-pack of defenders, including the newly signed John Moore, gives Cassidy options. He has four lefties and four righties, with a mix of size, speed, and skill. The Tuukka Rask-Jaroslav Halak tandem could be Boston’s best since the days of Tim Thomas and Rask. Boston looks like it will remain competitive if injuries strike.
But competitive may not be enough next season in the Atlantic Division, with Toronto taking a significant step forward, Tampa Bay remaining Cup-worthy, and Florida quietly on the cusp of contention.
The Bruins have a solid mix, but general manager Don Sweeney, as evidenced by his runs at Ilya Kovalchuk and John Tavares, is not totally content with his roster. Though hockey people retreat to summer vacation spots after the July 1 whirlwind, talks can and do continue.
“Whether that is training camp or the first part of the season, everybody is going to kind of look for surpluses or areas that other people have strength that you don’t,” Sweeney said. “Whether or not that actually happens, you just never know. Obviously, we had a lot of chatter going into the draft, and there were very few [deals] in and around the draft. Free agency, generally, is a frantic period of time that everybody is in on, and you just don’t know where the balls are going to land.”
Signing Moore, a large (6 feet 2 inches, 210 pounds), veteran (27), mobile, left-shot defender, should keep Boston from playing Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, and Urho Vaakanainen ahead of their development curve. If Sweeney is willing to deal a young and talented forward like Jake DeBrusk and/or the more expensive of his two 5-9 defensemen (Torey Krug), the return could boost the forward unit in a way the free agent market could not.
Either would be painful to surrender. DeBrusk, the young (22 in October), fast, and tough left wing, had a promising debut season (16-27—43 in 70 games) and strong postseason (6-2—8 in 12 games), and has two years left on his rookie deal ($863,333 against the cap). Krug, two years left at $5.25 million per, is one of the better power-play defensemen in the league and tied for the eighth-most points (14-45—59) among blue liners last season.
Perhaps they could be packaged along with another asset or a draft pick, which Sweeney may be reticent to deal after losing his 2018 first-rounder in the Rick Nash trade (Ottawa wound up using the pick at No. 26; remember the name Jacob Bernard-Docker). Sweeney may be swayed if he begins thinking about Columbus’s Artemi Panarin or Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds next to David Krejci.
For different reasons, both have been in trade rumors of late. Before the draft last month, Sportsnet in Canada reported Panarin was not interested in talking about an extension with the Blue Jackets, who could lose him in 2019. Panarin, with a year left at $6 million, is one of the league’s most dynamic and consistent offensive players. In his first three seasons in the NHL, the left wing has 233 points in 243 games, having missed a total of three games in that time. He carried Columbus in this recent postseason, with a 2-5—7 line in their six-game loss to Washington.
The Flyers’ addition of James van Riemsdyk (five years, $35 million) would seem to make Simmonds a trade candidate, unless Philly sees them as Broad Street Bash Brothers. Simmonds, who turns 30 on Aug. 26, enters the final year of his deal ($3.975 million cap hit for 2018-19). If healthy, he is one of the league’s top power forwards, a bruising right wing who can skate and score.
The steel-tough Simmonds, who has missed 24 games in 10 seasons, is coming off a season in which injuries limited him to 46 points, his lowest total in a non-lockout year since arriving in Philadelphia in 2011 in a trade for Mike Richards.
According to a medical report he gave after the Flyers finished up, he played the entire season with a tear in his pelvic area, which caused him to overcompensate and pull his groin. He also took the ice with a broken ankle — not a weight-bearing bone, he explained — and returned after surgery to fix torn ligaments in his thumb. He missed seven games after the thumb injury, but played the remaining 75, plus six in the playoffs (0-2—2). He lost six teeth from a high stick. Despite all that, he still scored 24 goals.
Either Panarin or Simmonds would come at great cost, but would be worth considering. Except for their 2019 fourth- and seventh-rounders, the Bruins possess all future draft choices. Sweeney, who lamented sitting out Round 1 in Dallas, considers them valuable currency.
“Obviously, we haven’t been able to rule anything out,” he said. “We feel very comfortable with the group of guys we have, and we’ll move forward with it. When the calls come as a result, that’s part of the business, and everybody understands that.”
. . .
Rask has his critics in Boston.Halak will not be one of them.
“I know he’s an elite goalie and he’s proved that every year,” Halak said Monday, a day after he signed a two-year, $5.5 million deal with the Bruins.
After two years of a Rask-Anton Khudobin goaltender tandem, Boston enters the season with the 33-year-old Halak backing up the 31-year-old Rask. Sweeney is betting that Halak, who has been a No. 1 in four NHL cities, can provide ace-level play behind Rask and carry the load if need be.
Rask and Halak each played 54 games in 2017-18, but Halak is expected to play between 25 and 30 games this coming season, barring injuries to either.
The goalies’ health is critical for the Bruins, who lack options in net beyond the two veterans. The Providence pair of Zane McIntyre and Dan Vladar aren’t ready for the NHL. Prospects Kyle Keyser (OHL) and Jeremy Swayman (University of Maine) are years away.
“I’ll try to help out any way I can,” said Halak, who battled Thomas Greiss for the Islanders’ starting job the last three seasons. “I’ll try to fit in as soon as possible.”
Halak was a ninth-round pick (271st overall) of Montreal in 2003. As an Islander the last four years, he was 88-65-19 with a .913 save percentage and 2.69 goals-against average. Halak was 20-26-6, .902, and 3.19 this past season for a noncontending Islanders team, the worst full-season totals of his career.
On Sunday, Sweeney pointed to the Islanders’ penalty-kill struggles (last in the league) as a major reason for the netminder’s down season. Sweeney believes Halak’s stats will improve behind a tighter defense and a Bruins penalty kill that was third-best in the NHL in 2017-18.
“Well, you know, they have a great team,” Halak said. “A lot of talent; the city is great and obviously [the] fans as well. Every time we play there, it is exciting to play in that building, and it’s so hard to play against all the time.”
Asked about his playing style, the 5-foot-11-inch, 183-pound Halak called himself a “kind of a mix of butterfly and standup goalie at times. . . . I think, or maybe someone else would disagree with me.”
Canadiens fans can say a lot about Halak, ever popular in Montreal for his playoff heroics in 2010, when he stopped 131 of 134 shots in Games 5 through 7 to help the eighth-seeded Habs overcome a 3-1 first-round series deficit to Washington, the top-scoring team in the league and Presidents’ Trophy winner.
Montreal’s rebuild has taken some spice out of its rivalry with the Bruins, but Halak has good memories from his time there (2006-10), before he was dealt to St. Louis (for Lars Eller and Ian Schultz).
“It was always intense every time we played Boston,” said Halak, who earned Vezina votes in 2010 and 2012 and was a 2015 All-Star. “I think it was really intense, the intensity on the ice, in the stands the fans were always involved. No matter where the game was, whether it was in Montreal or Boston, it was always loud in the buildings.”
Halak, a former Canadien, was excited to play for another Original Six team, and to reunite with Zdeno Chara, his Olympic teammate in 2010 and 2014 with Team Slovakia — “A great guy and a really good friend,” Halak said — though he didn’t poll Chara for his thoughts on life in Boston.
“The decision came down to the term and my family,” he said. “I have two kids already, and Boston is a great city for family as well, living there. I think that was the main decision. Also, Boston has a great team, and they’re always on the top of the standings, and I’m just looking forward to helping out.”
. . .
Veteran scribe Larry Brooks of the New York Post wondered if DeBrusk would be a fair ask for Rangers third-line center Kevin Hayes, 26, of Dorchester and Boston College. His brother Jimmy’s homecoming wasn’t a success, and the last addition from Broadway (Nash) didn’t pan out, but Kevin Hayes was one of the Blueshirts’ best players last year. A 6-5, 217-pound left-shot, he put up a 25-19—44 last season, is durable, and became a decent faceoff man (50.5 percent in 2017-18, after being in the 40s in his first three years). Hayes, making $2.6 million on a bridge deal, is a restricted free agent. He is arbitration-eligible. The Rangers re-signed winger Vladislav Namestnikov, one of their additions in the Ryan McDonagh deal with Tampa, and Brooks suggested the Rangers could move him to the middle if Hayes is dealt.
Matt Porter can be reached at email@example.com.