I’m talking about Anton Blidh, Oskar Steen and Urho Vaakanainen. Although it’s been limited timing for Steen and Vaakanainen, one could argue that none of the trio has done anything to warrant being taken out of the lineup. And the team is winning which makes changing anything a very difficult decision.
Vaakanainen didn’t have his best game Saturday afternoon against the Nashville Predators. When a penalty late in the third period in a tie game would have had a lot of coaches stapling him to the bench, Coach Bruce Cassidy sent him back out there. And he did it on overtime as well and it was Vaakanainen’s play – breaking up a two-on-one and transitioning the other way – that led to Taylor Hall’s overtime game winning goal.
Blidh has been more than advertised and he’s older at 26 years of age, but his energy and pest like game is something the Bruins should be looking to keep in the lineup. And he is providing some offense – 2 goals, 6 assists in 18 games – from the fourth line.
Steen has been a horse as well providing energy and causing disruption on the forecheck. He’s even provided some offense with a goal and 4 apples in 11 games.
Nick Foligno, Trent Frederic, Matt Grzelcyk, John Moore and Connor Clifton are all out due to injuries or COVID-19 protocol and expected back sooner rather than later. Only Jakub Zboril is out long term – gone for the season with an ACL tear and subsequent surgery.
General Manager Don Sweeney and Assistant GM and cap guru Evan Gold along with Cassidy have some difficult decisions coming up. You’re only allowed 23 bodies on the NHL roster (24 if you count Zboril who is on injured reserve) and the Bruins currently have 26 counting the injured bodies. They are going to have to move bodies to Providence or the Taxi Squad (players that were on the NHL roster on December 22, 2021 are not eligible to go to the Taxi Squad).
Tyler Lewington is the obvious choice to head down. Moore is another one if only to bank some cap space. However, if he is injured you can’t send him down until he is cleared and he is also approaching 30 days on the roster which means he will once again require waivers.
Vaakanainen and Steen do not require waivers to be sent down. I know most fans don’t care about waivers even though we’ve seen over the years with this squad how important it is to have some depth. We’re seeing it now; we saw it last year on the blueline as well. It is a factor that the couch GM doesn’t take into consideration.
If the brass comes to the conclusion that you have to, at all costs keep Steen and/or Vaakanainen, one option is to waive Karson Kuhlman, who just can’t seem to get into the lineup and has been passed over by Steen, at least in the coach’s eyes who has favored Steen over him.
If you waive Kuhlman, then you just have to find a spot for Vaakanainen and that could be solved by sending Moore back to Providence (while also banking the most cap space) and leave you with Vaakanainen and Clifton battling for who gets into the lineup and who your seventh defenceman is.
Of course, the Jake DeBrusk saga coming to an end would help here. And that’s only if another body isn’t coming back. Until then, how do you keep Blidh in the lineup when Foligno and Frederic return? The same could be said for Steen.
I know what I would do. Sweeney, Gold and Cassidy should and will do what’s best for the team. And those decisions will have to be made soon.