The Bruins very well may start the new season — now just 80 days away — with what we know this morning as their eight-man defensive corps, with Charlie McAvoy as the emerging uber talent and the old man in the C, Zdeno Chara (a spritely 42 next March), pegged as their holdover No. 1 pairing.
But while much of the offseason focus and speculation around the Bruins centers on what they’ll do to prop up second-line scoring (a.k.a. the perennial Krejci Line question), it’s the backline group that again failed to get the job done in the playoffs, albeit with key members Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug each out of action by the end of Round 2 vs. the Lightning.
Is John Moore the answer to what ailed them? Possibly. He has impressive wheels, particularly for a guy his size (6 feet 3 inches, 210 pounds), and speed is the oxygen of coach Bruce Cassidy’s attack.
Speed alone, though, doesn’t dictate success. Dougie Hamilton had similar speed and was slightly bigger (now 6-6, 210), but today (now on team No. 3 with the Hurricanes) is still prone to puck decision boo-boos that have chilled the talk of him turning into a franchise defenseman. Perhaps Rod Brind’Amour, the Canes’ new bench boss, will get him right.
Meanwhile, Boston is NHL stop No. 5 on Moore’s career itinerary. Once a first-round pick (No. 21 in 2009) of the Blue Jackets, he has been traded twice and twice more found work as a free agent — including the five-year/$13.75 million deal he signed with the Black and Gold on July 1. All by age 27. If he truly can hold his own in the top four, he will prove to be general manager Don Sweeney’s best, and most financially prudent, July 1 impact signing.
Among Sweeney’s other five-year UFA deals, Matt Beleskey was a bust and David Backes has thus far logged a Gentleman’s C. Considering Backes’s $6 million annual cap hit, that C is the mark of an easy grader.
For the moment, Moore’s role is unclear, though clarity will come quickly once the puck is dropped in October. His lefthand shot all but eliminates him from being Chara’s running mate on the shutdown unit, which leaves McAvoy the incumbent. If Moore is on the No. 2 pairing, with Carlo on the right side, then that bumps Krug down to a No. 3 spot, which is, shall we say, a very odd fit for a club’s top-paid defenseman ($5.25 million cap charge).
Rumors through the spring, and into the summer, had Sweeney looking to wheel Krug and divvying up his role and minutes between McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk. Fine in theory, just as it’s fine to think Moore’s speed alone will make him a top-four fixture.
What we know about Krug, despite his challenges as a five-on-five defender, is that he delivers points, 154 of them over just the last three seasons. It’s a Mutt and Jeff comparison at best, but Victor Hedman needed his first five seasons in Tampa to collect 144 points, then averaged 44 points over Years 6, 7, and 8. Yeah, anybody can tally points, but the vast majority do not, and brooming out Krug could be the $5.25 million cap savings that turns into a frantic footrace just to make the playoffs because, “Hey, these guys have no pop from the back end!”
If Krug stays put, that drops Moore to a No. 3 pairing, which certainly is more in line with his pay grade. Third-pairing defenders Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller average a $2.63 million cap hit. Grzelcyk, whose game added real traction in the second half last season, recently signed a two-year deal at $1.4 million per. Though small like Krug (each 5-9), he proved his ability to defend. He finished plus-21, while Krug netted out at zero.
The larger view here, again without seeing Moore in terms other than his new contract, is for Sweeney to move McQuaid ($2.75 million), which would leave the Bruins with about $5.75 million in cap space headed into the new season. The move would leave Cassidy with a far-easier-to-manage group of seven, keep Krug’s 50-plus points in the bank, and create some intense competition among Moore, Krug, and Grzelcyk to sort out minutes and playing roles.
Keep in mind, roughly 80 percent of Krug’s playing time last season was at even strength, and he still scored a career-high 59 points, on a team that finished with 50 wins and 112 points. If someone wants to hand over a mid-20s bona fide scoring winger in trade, then great, Sweeney should make the trade. Other than David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, the Bruins didn’t have a winger reach Krug’s 59 points last season. Which means the discussion has to begin with a 30-30—60 shooter.
So, that’s the large view. The longer view: Where does all this go once Chara retires? A scarier proposition than trying to figure how Moore fits into the 2018-19 mix.
YOU NEVER KNOW
Hard to predict future of goalies
UMass Lowell’s Connor Hellebuyck, age 25, cashed in on Thursday, agreeing to a six-year contract extension with the Jets worth $37 million ($6.17 million cap hit). He became the Jets’ workhorse the past two seasons and was stellar in the playoffs (9-8, 2.36, .922) before Winnipeg ultimately ran out of gas vs. Vegas in the Western Conference finals.
The 6-4 Hellebuyck spent only 1½ seasons in the minors following his UML days, turning pro in the spring of 2014 after his two-year tour with the River Hawks (38-12-2).
Hellebuyck was picked No. 130 in the 2012 draft, the same year the Bruins spent their first-round pick (No. 24) on Malcolm Subban (now doing business as a Golden Knight), and the Lightning, with No. 19, chose Andrei Vasilevskiy (two years to go on his deal at a $3.5 million cap hit).
A total of 24 netminders were selected in the 2012 draft, a dozen before Hellebuyck. Of the two dozen, only five others chose the NCAA route: Jon Gillies, Calgary, No. 75, Providence College; Sean Maguire, Pittsburgh, No. 113, Boston University; Collin Olson, Carolina, 159, Ohio State and Western Michigan; Jamie Phillips, Winnipeg, 190, Michigan Tech; Matt Tomkins, Chicago, 199, Ohio State.
Thus far, only Gillies has seen any NHL action (a modest 12 games with the Flames).
All of which tells us what? Perhaps what we already knew, that it’s all but impossible to handicap a goaltending prospect’s career trajectory. That’s true throughout the draft, sometimes even among the top 10-12 picks, but it can be particularly unpredictable with goalies.
It’s not that Hellebuyck came out of nowhere, but the buzz of that draft was, by far, generated around the duo of Vasilevskiy, who incubated in Russia for two more years before coming to North America, and Subban, who had some scouts believing he could be the next Carey Price, in large part because of his mesmerizing quickness and bold athleticism. His link to P.K. Subban, his uber talented brother then in Montreal, also helped build his credentials.
Subban, lost to Vegas via waivers last October, finally showed signs this past season that he could be a reliable NHL stopper. He didn’t show that with the Bruins, albeit his call-ups were few and sporadic, and his performance in those games was shakier than Tyler Seguin’s “I never heard the alarm clock” alibi.
To date, of the two dozen stoppers chosen in ’12, the best of the lot have been Vasilevskiy, Hellebuyck, and Frederik Andersen, now the Maple Leafs’ No. 1 after being selected No. 87 by the Ducks.
Maroon will be winging for Blues
Nice pickup by the Blues, adding St Louis homeboy Patrick Maroon for only a year at $1.75 million. The free agent left winger, on Boston’s radar leading up to the February trade deadline, put up healthy numbers for the Devils (3-10—13 in 17 games) after the Oilers shipped him to New Jersey in February for the rights to J.D. Dudek and a third-round pick next June.
In the 20-20 unfailing hindsight department, the 6-3, 225-pound Maroon would have been a wiser, and far cheaper, addition for the Bruins than Rick Nash. The ex-Ranger had a strong start here but soon was sidelined by another concussion, one that two weeks ago led him to opt out of the free agent signing frenzy. His career remains on hold, and at age 34 he might be all done.
If he’s not back here, Nash’s career line with the Bruins will be 23 games (playoffs included) for 6-5—11. Reminiscent in some ways to Al Iafrate, acquired at the 1994 deadline, who logged only 25 games in Black and Gold for 8-9—17. Joe Juneau, shipped to the Capitals for The Planet, played 10 more seasons and rolled up another 379 points.
Maroon’s St. Louis deal appears to be the NHL’s version of a gap year. His expired three-year pact, signed in Anaheim, paid him $2.1 million last season. At age 30, he’s young enough to have commanded a three- or four-year deal. He was enticed to go home, in part, so he could be close to his young son Anthony, who lives there with his mom.
Born in St. Louis and drafted by the Flyers in 2007, Maroon spent five seasons in the minors before finally cracking the Ducks’ lineup in 2012-13. For a big man with flashes of stick skill around the net, he’s never been a big scorer (career high: 27 goals), but he has the legs, size, and personality to fit in well with a lot of clubs. If he gets hot, as he did in his first full year with the Oilers (27-15—42), he might turn his St. Louis redux into a permanent home.
Making sure their cap fits
Perenially in a financial straitjacket — one that undoubtedly would have had longtime skinflint Bill Wirtz fitted for a real one — the Blackhawks on Thursday deleted some $5 million in cap money by shipping Marian Hossa’s $5.725 million hit (three years of it) to the perpetually lackluster Coyotes.
In return, the Coyotes shoveled 28-year-old center Marcus Kruger, and his one year at $2.775 million, to the Blackhawks, in a deal that also included Arizona acquiring forward Vincent Hinostroza (ex- of Notre Dame) and defenseman Jordan Oesterle (ex- of Western Michigan). The combined cap hit of the latter pair: $2.15 million.
If you have followed along so far, congrats on your CPA certification.
The upshot: With the $5 million “discount,” the Blackhawks entered the weekend, per CapFriendly.com stats, with a fairly comfy $9.3 million in cap room. All their core players are under contract for next season, but some of the cap savings will be eaten up when GM Stan Bowman adds at least three forwards to fill out that will allow the Blackhawks to dress the requisite dozen up front each night.
Unless Bowman has something else up his pocket calculator, those slots will go to kids promoted from AHL Rockville, likely minimum-wage guys who’ll only count a total $2 million, plus or minus, against the cap.
For their bother, the Coyotes are hoping Hinostroza, a right-shot center with 106 NHL games on his résumé, can blossom into something other than a third- or fourth-liner, or at least be a solid 7-8-9 support guy. He was a point-a-game guy at Notre Dame and in the AHL, and now Rick Tocchet will see if he can handle bigger minutes and an expanded role.
The vast majority of Hossa’s remaining money won’t mean much in hard dollars (less than a $1 million in cash) for the Coyotes, so it’s an OK play for a club that had gobs of cap room. After the move, they’re slightly over $69 million, ranked 14th in the league. The Blackhawks entered the weekend at No. 11 in cap commitment, but will inch up a rung or two when Bowman figures out which stocking stuffers will take those open forward spots.
The Knights still need to get William Karlsson’s name inked to an extension, one that will cost them a bundle after his 43 regular-season goals and 15 points in the playoffs. Just what was it that the Blue Jackets didn’t see in him prior to exposing him to the expansion draft?
Meanwhile, ex-Bruin back liner Colin Miller has pledged four more years to the Knights at an annual $3.875 million cap hit. Miller remained an erratic defender (minus-4), but he produced 41 points (T-28 among all defensemen) and continued to impress with his hard slapper, a tool, if refined, that could help him push 60 points — a plateau reached last season by only Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson, Norris winner Victor Hedman, Shayne Gostisbehere, Brent Burns, John Klingberg, and John Carlson . . . Good news for William Karlsson: Even with the smart addition of free agent Paul Stastny (three years/$19.5 million), the Knights still have some $15 million in cap space, with all their other key personnel tied up for at least next season . . . John Moore, on the books at $2.75 million a year through the spring of 2023, is second only to Brad Marchand ($6.125 million annually through the spring of 2025) for longest existing term on the Bruins’ payroll. David Pastrnak’s $6.67 million also expires in the spring of 2023 . . . Moore was the ninth blue liner chosen in the 2009 draft. The leadoff hitters were Hedman (No. 2, Tampa Bay) and Oliver Ekman-Larsson (No. 6, Coyotes) . . . Joe Watson, who broke in for good on Boston’s defense in 1966-67 along with some sprout from Parry Sound, Ontario, will be signing autographs Sunday at Sportsworld in Saugus, joined by another Black and Golden oldie, right winger Gary Dornhoefer. Watson and Dornhoefer joined the expansionist Flyers for the start of the 1967-68 season and each had their names etched on the Cup with the Broad Street Bullies’ back-to-back championships in 1974 and ’75 . . . Joe Bertagna, commissioner of Hockey East and long ago the Bruins’ goaltending coach, last week opened up his 45th goaltending camp at the West Suburban Arena in Natick. The hardest-working man in horsehair pads is vowing to make it to at least 50 years . . . With Rene Rancourt stepping down from Causeway anthem duty, the Bruins are looking for crooners. Go to bostonbruins.com/anthem. Audition samples must be submitted by Aug. 1 and then there’ll be a sing-off at the Garden on Aug. 8. For the good of God, country, and hockey, someone please make sure Lyndon Byers is busy that day.