In his final game as a Duck, on Sunday against Vegas, Nick Ritchie recorded two goals and two assists. He was about a stick’s length from the crease when he picked up each of the four points, barreling his way toward blue paint and red lights.
He won’t be needed to deliver 2-2—4 performances in Boston — that’s David Pastrnak’s department — but if Ritchie’s crashing-and-banging creates a few goals in the months ahead, so be it.
“Interior ice play, size and strength, net-front play, contested puck battles,” said general manager Don Sweeney, ticking off some of the reasons he shipped Danton Heinen to Anaheim for Brett Ritchie’s younger, more accomplished brother before Monday’s trade countdown clock hit zero.
The Bruins didn’t bolster the back end, believing there’s enough in reserve to get through the grittiest time of the season. Connor Clifton is on the way back, Jeremy Lauzon has played with bite, and there’s Steven Kampfer, Urho Vaakanainen and Jakub Zboril down on the farm. Maybe Kevan Miller will suit up again, and what a pleasant return that would be.
Sweeney did upgrade his forward group in a similar manner as last season’s trade deadline, when a pair of deals brought him brawn (Charlie Coyle) and skill (Marcus Johansson) for draft picks and a stagnant young player (Ryan Donato).
The sum of the two separate moves in the last four days: Ondrej Kase and Ritchie for a 2020 first-round pick, Heinen, David Backes and defense prospect Axel Andersson.
While Kase, who last played Feb. 7, is unlikely to face the Flames on Tuesday, TD Garden could see Ritchie lined up at left wing on the third line. Ritchie was traveling to Boston on Monday and expected to join the team at Tuesday’s morning skate.
Sweeney was looking at more accomplished wingers, such as Chris Kreider and Kyle Palmieri, but opted to use the major chip that would attract a bigger name — his first round pick — to help convince Anaheim to take on three-quarters of Backes’s $6 million cap hit.
Sweeney has to think about the books, too, particularly given his ongoing negotiations with Torey Krug and the fact the Bruins, before Kase and Ritchie debut, were pretty darn competitive (90 points, No. 1 in the NHL).
They didn’t necessarily have to add a major piece, such as Kreider, to make a run. They were in need of NHL-tested forwards, and 24-year-olds Kase and Ritchie fit that bill.
Kase brings speed and a willing trigger to the right side, likely with David Krejci as his center. And if he does nothing else during the stretch run, he can at least help the Bruins break that shootout hex (he is 4 for 5 in shootout attempts this season, 7 for 14 career).
Ritchie, two years younger, two inches shorter (6-2) and 15 pounds heavier (230) than Brett, is a bit sharper in his skill, enough to earn the 10th overall slot in the 2014 draft, 15 picks before the Bruins took David Pastrnak and the same year the Ducks grabbed Kase (205th overall) in the seventh round.
Ritchie, who has an 8-11—19 line in 41 games this season, is a statistical wash with Heinen (7-15—22 in 58 games), who is defensively responsible and versatile but has regressed from his 47-point rookie season two years ago.
“His production’s been down a little bit,” Sweeney said of Heinen, a fourth-round find (116th overall) in 2014. “He’s been hard on himself. But just a tremendous person and a really good hockey player. I hope he goes and flourishes there.”
Ritchie was reasonably productive in Anaheim, scoring 1.68 points per 60 minutes at 5 on 5 (ranking fifth on the team, tied with Ryan Getzlaf) while playing in the middle six. His expected goals numbers (a measure of a shot quality) were among the best on the team.
A few concerns: he takes penalties (13 minors, tied for 29th-most in the league) and doesn’t draw them (one this season). He also missed seven weeks with a left MCL sprain after Capitals defenseman Radko Gudas threw a late hit on him Dec. 6, but he returned late last month.
Like his brother — who is dealing with a knee injury in Providence — Nick Ritchie had a breakout season in 2016-17, when he was just getting adjusted to the league. While Brett had 16 goals with the Stars, Nick had 14 goals for the Ducks. Brett never came close to reaching that year’s 24-point mark in the following years, but Nick’s steady improvement brought him to a career-high 31 points (nine goals, 22 assists) in 60 games last season.
He has played with some of the Ducks’ better forwards, including Kase. He likely will start his Bruins tenure with Charlie Coyle, and Anders Bjork will move to the right side.
Coach Bruce Cassidy, who spoke Monday before the team confirmed the deal, said Ritchie could be “a guy that can get inside. We’ve talked about that: is that a deficiency in our lineup against some of the bigger [defensive] cores? We’ve had those internal discussions. Try to get a little bigger for those heavier D in those tougher games in the playoffs.”
The Bruins helped themselves after the season. Kase costs $2.6 million through 2021, some $200,000 less than Heinen. Ritchie, who makes about $1.5 million, is also signed through 2021. Both will be restricted free agents that summer (as will Brandon Carlo; David Krejci, Tuukka Rask and Sean Kuraly will be UFAs). The Bruins will retain $1.5 million of Backes’s deal through ’21.
The Bruins, now with some $5.25 million in cap space, freed up about $2 million. Next up: Torey Krug, who next year could be cashing tickets worth between $6 million and $8 million. The Bruins’ final offer, whenever they make it, will not likely be at the high end of that range.
For now, the Bruins added Ritchie Redux, a dash of flash with Kase, and will hope that the financial flexibility gained this deadline helps convince Krug to stay around beyond a final run for Lord Stanley.
“I like our team. I like our competitiveness. I like our strength at every position,” Cassidy said. “I like the goaltending, balance in our group, great team defense, we still score, special teams are solid. So there’s really not a lot to complain about.”