All things considered; it was a pretty good offseason for Boston Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney. Was it perfect? No! But things never go perfectly for a National Hockey League general manager. Here’s a look at five things I believe went against the Bruins and the order of their importance:
Everyone knew that this day would come at some point as Krejci has long talked about heading home to the Czech Republic to play. We can discuss ad nauseam whether Sweeney knew before free agent frenzy that Krejci was leaving, or whether he should have been more prepared. The fact is, that Krejci is gone.
We all know the struggles the Bruins have had on the second line and secondary scoring over the years through no fault of Krejci’s. Enter Taylor Hall, the first legit top flight winger Krejci has had since Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton and everything that ailed the Bruins had disappeared. Everything went right for Krejci and Hall, especially since Hall didn’t have to be “the guy” anymore.
But the Krejci MIA Hall with his “center by committee” is now forced to be “the guy” once again and be the driver of that unit. Krejci’s departure now puts undo pressure on Hall, not to mention Charlie Coyle who will most likely be the first pivot on that line to try and make it go.
Top pair left shot defenceman
The link to Nashville Predators’ defender Mattias Ekholm goes back a full year and truth be told, Ekholm would have answered a lot of questions surrounding the Bruins blue line. In fairness though, a lot of the same questions were raised last offseason with the departures of Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug. Despite numerous injuries and having to use 13 blueliners throughout the season, the defenders held their own. And while the offense from the defense was not what we are accustomed too, it took off once Reilly appeared to the point that it translated to what they got from the blue line during the 2019-2020 season.
This offseason, the Bruins lost Kevan Miller to retirement and Jeremy Lauzon to the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft. Miller’s presence allowed the Bruins to save Charlie McAvoy for 5-on-5 and powerplay duty as Miller and Brandon Carlo could both eat big minutes on the PK on the right side. Unless coach Bruce Cassidy trusts Connor Clifton with more penalty killing minutes, then McAvoy could be seeing more PK time.
Enter Derek Forbort who Sweeney signed to a three-year, $9 million deal. With Lauzon’s departure, the Bruins were left without a natural left side penalty killing option and Forbort fills that role. That means that Reilly or Matt Grzelcyk is going to have to step up on the PK or one of McAvoy or Clifton are going to have to play their weak side. This would still be an issue even if the Bruins somehow were able to land a top-pair left shot defender.
One would think that losing an elite, top goaltender like Rask would be at the top of the list, but the fact is, that Rask is not lost for the season and in his own words, is ahead of schedule in his recovery and rehab. It will hurt if Linus Ullmark and Jeremey Swayman can’t hold the fort until a potential Rask return and they drop too far out of contention that there won’t be enough time to challenge for a playoff spot.
Now, there is a silver lining here. Signing Ullmark enables the Bruins to bring Rask back for one season and look at the situation next offseason. It also allows the Bruins to bring Swayman along at the pace they’d like to and not have to throw him to the wolves. It also allows Kyle Keyser to receive higher quality minutes against superior competition in Providence instead of the ECHL, where his development was set back due to injuries.
It also allowed the Bruins to trade Daniel Vladar and recoup a third round pick they gave up in the Mike Reilly trade. It also sets up several years of development for 2021 draft pick Philip Svedebeck.
That’s your silver lining but it is all moot if Ullmark and Swayman don’t succeed.
I’ve touched on it a bit already but, I can assure you Cassidy and the Bruins did not want to lose Lauzon in the expansion draft. Sure, he wasn’t an analytics darling in his first full season. But that’s not what this player is about. The team was willing to live with the mistakes while he learned on the job. With Lauzon, it was about the future. There were some “rumors” that Sweeney inquired about acquiring Lauzon back.
Today, Forbort can bring more to the table then Lauzon, there is no debating that. But in a year or two? No one can predict that. And Lauzon comes $2.15 million cheaper, money that could have been used elsewhere. Yes, there would have been more growing pains, but the team was willing to live with them.
No New Ice Plant
The Bruins want to play a fast game with a lot of pace, and the TD Garden ice, for lack of a better term, is terrible. There had been talk for a couple of years about a new Ice Plant at the Garden but it has not happened. That’s not really on Sweeney but on ownership. Now, they did invest in a new humidifier system, the same one used by the Tampa Bay Lighting. If it works in Tampa, it should work in Boston, correct? I’m sure that Sweeney and Cassidy, for the team they have assembled and they way they want to play, some decent ice would be a help.
Here’s to hoping it works.