If you had told me at the start of the season that the Boston Bruins would be 8-1 through the first nine games of the season, I would have gladly taken that while telling you that “you are off your rocker.” Hockey prognosticators were telling us that if they could remain slightly above hockey .500 while waiting for Matt Grzelcyk (since returned), Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy to return, that they could then challenge for the playoffs once the team iced a healthy roster.
I never believed the situation was as dire as some were making it out to be. However, I’d be lying if I said they would be where they are today. You don’t just remove two Superstars from any lineup and expect what we have witnessed. Has it been perfect? Absolutely not. There are some areas of the Bruins game that will need some cleaning up and that will come as the players become more accustomed to what the coaching staff is asking of them.
Several things will happen Tuesday night as the Bruins travel to PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh to take on Sidney Crosby and the Penguins in game number ten of the Bruins season. You see, Tuesday is November 1, and you can change McAvoy’s status from “late November” to “imminent”.
However, with game ten approaching, there are some CBA related things that will happen Tuesday that could play a key role (or will play a key role) in the decisions the Bruins have to make when the inevitable time to activate McAvoy from Long Term Injury Reserve arrives.
So, what happens Tuesday?
Patrice Bergeron will skate in his tenth game Tuesday and that will earn him a performance bonus of $2,500,000. The same would have happened for David Krejci against the Penguins but an injury has sidelined him, but his tenth game is coming, and he’ll earn a $1,000,000 bonus. (Krejci will also earn a $500,000 bonus after 20 games and $500,000 if the Bruins make the playoffs).
The good news for the Bruins is that they could let that $3,500,000 (plus a potential $1 million more for the remainder of Krejci’s) in bonuses carry over to the 2023-2024 season in the form of bonus overage thus reducing their cap space next season. And with news that the cap could jump by $4 million for next season, the Bruins just might be comfortable with that. Or, they may want to clear some cap space to fit some or all of those bonuses under this season’s cap.
Tuesday also marks game ten for Nick Foligno. He, along with Mike Reilly were placed on and cleared waivers to start the season by the Bruins. Once a player clears waivers, they can stay on the NHL roster for 9 games or 30 days and would not require waivers to be loaned to the AHL Providence Bruins. Once they play in the tenth game, waivers expire, and they would need to clear again. That is, if it’s the Bruins choice to send them to the AHL. As we saw on Thursday, the Bruins have already made the decision to send Reilly down prior to reaching his tenth game partly because they needed a roster spot under the 23-man limit to activate Marchand.
All this chatter about cap space and waivers! Why?
Because we knew this day was coming and that General Manager Don Sweeney and his staff were going to be facing some difficult decisions. And it could be so tight that Montgomery may not even have a voice on who stays and who goes as it will all be dictated by their cap situation.
Activating Marchand wasn’t difficult. They had cap space with McAvoy on LTIR and the only thing they needed to decide is which body was going to Providence. Reilly, Foligno, Jakub Lauko and Jeremey Swayman were the only waiver exempt options. With the way Foligno has been playing he wasn’t really an option, and neither was Swayman so Lauko and Reilly it was. Lauko of course has since been recalled as an Emergency Loan for an injured David Krejci.
Assuming Krejci will return before McAvoy, what are the Bruins options?
To be honest, I’ve been putting this piece together for about a week with the moves that needed to be made and Sweeney has been making them as I went along, so I’d have to start over. You see, each move individually may not make a lot of sense so some. But when you combine each move together, you get a clear picture.
The first item up for discussion here is the 23-man roster limit.
As mentioned, Lauko is an Emergency Loan for Krejci and once DK46 returns, Lauko will head back to Providence. Reilly has already been loaned and on Thursday the Bruins dealt Jack Studnicka to the Vancouver Canucks for Jonathan Myrenberg and Michael DiPietro that followed the Reilly and Lauko loans to Providence.
The series of moves will set the Bruins up with a 22-man roster once Krejci is able to return and Lauko is sent back to Providence thus opening up the needed roster spot for McAvoy.
The remaining roadblock to a McAvoy return is cap space. The Bruins would need to clear about $1.2 million in cap space in order to “fit” McAvoy back under the cap once activated.
The obvious choice for the Bruins to free up some cap space would be to trade Reilly who will count as $1,972,298 towards the cap to play in Providence.
But what if the Bruins want to fit some of that Bergeron and Krejci bonus money under this year’s cap as opposed to carrying it over to next season? They also have to consider that as of right now, this team looks like a serious contender, and they may want to leave themselves some cap flexibility at trade deadline by banking some cap space. What about further injuries?
Which brings us to Craig Smith. He’s played everywhere from first line (out of necessity) to third line to fourth line to being a healthy scratch and to me it doesn’t appear that Montgomery has a place for Smith to call home. Moving Smith would clear $3.1 million in cap space and allow them not only to fit McAvoy back under the cap, but to bank some cap space.
But let’s go all out here. What about trading both Reilly and Smith? Sweeney has held discussion on both players and moving both would really set them up for success.
I know there are those that will hound me (as they already have) with their “why would anyone trade for Reilly when they could have had him for nothing on waivers?”
These things happen in the NHL. Teams that may have had interest just didn’t have the cap space to grab him off waivers. It’s a fact. And in a trade where the Bruins aren’t going to be asking for much back in return, you can get them to retain say a million dollars that you can’t on waivers. And of course, there have been injuries to blueliners around the league that are going to need filling.
If you are into this stuff like I am, watching Sweeney and Assistant GM and cap guru Evan Gold make their series of moves is like a great game of chess. They may not be able to call check mate until trade deadline, but it will come. There’s just one last move to make before then.