Saturday, May 14, 2016

Pool Outlook for Boston

The Boston Bruins are the last of the non-playoff teams in the Pool Outlook list, as they lost they couldn't capture the last wild card spot, watching the Philadelphia Flyers go right past them in the waning days of the season, losing by 3 points in the end.

The mistakes from the Bruins management team over a year ago continued to resonate in the 2016 edition of the team, as they were still working with the wrong huge contracts and it really had tied their hands, as to what they could do to support those players.  They also haven't had the same kind of luck or scouting that the Chicago Blackhawks have had in recent years, as they have been mired with a huge cap hit from year to year.

Still, the Bruins did manage to bully their way into a good number of wins and they did almost make the playoffs, but in the end, this team really didn't have the heart to fight on in the last couple of weeks, when they needed that extra bit of leadership.  Instead, they saw key losses to Ottawa, Carolina, Chicago and New Jersey in the last couple weeks of the year, three of those teams didn't even make the playoffs and were lower seeds than where the Bruins had finished.  In this league, it is a lot about finish and you have to step over the easier hurdles to even have a good chance at going far here.

This Summer looks to be a good stepping stone for this franchise, as whatever patience they have left will be rewarded with a little bit of help in the free agent sense of things.  The question remains, will it be enough to make that step back into the playoffs?

From the hockey pool perspective, the poolies didn't have a lot of faith in this Bruins team at the start of the season, as they only selected 11 players out of Boston at the September draft, well below the pool average.  Tuukka Rask, however, was a 1st round pick this year, since we knew he was going to get a ton of minutes, whether he liked it or not.  A decent start for the Bruins led to a solid 4:1 ratio for picks to drops at the Week Nine Waiver Draft, which showed that some of the confidence was being restored and then tinkering in the draft lineups made it an even 3:3 in the Week Eighteen Waiver Draft.  After the trade deadline, the Bruins finished with 16 players on active rosters, thanks to the acquisitions of Lee Stempniak and John-Michael Liles.

In the rankings, the faith in Rask was rewarded, as he finished ranked 27th overall in pool scoring, still a 1st round pick, thanks to 31 wins, 4 shutouts and an assist for 71 points this year.  Those numbers were good enough for 12th among all goalies in pool points and the team's faith should still be fairly high in him, one would think.

Rask's understudy this year, Jonas Gustavsson, was also pool worthy in 2016, appearing in 24 games and picking up 24 points, ranking 46th overall among all goalies.  He wasn't going to win you the pool, but if picked in a good spot, he wouldn't have hurt your chances.

The Bruins were not short on pool worthy forwards, as they were able to put points up on the board last season.  Patrice Bergeron, Loui Eriksson, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Lee Stempniak, Ryan Spooner, Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes and David Pastrnak all finished within the top 216 forwards, all worthy of a mention.  Marchand, Bergeron and Eriksson were all 30-goal scorers in the season as well, but it still wasn't enough for this team to make it.

On the blueline, Boston did seem to miss having a real dominant force offensively from the back, as Torey Krug finished 21st among defensemen and Zdeno Chara finished 31st to lead the way.  John-Michael Liles and Kevan Miller also had decent years for a mention, but it still lacked that certain something.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

When interviewing for the position of a new manager in Boston, you're going to want to know that the new guy is interested in change.  Of course, change in the NHL is not easy to achieve, especially with contract structures the way they are nowadays.  You would think that a fire sale would be the easiest way to get started, but buyers are now lessening by the year, as each team has found a way to grow internally and costs being on the rise, don't really allow for even the most flexible of budget teams to go out and shop.  With all of this being considered, the Bruins could be in for a tough 2016 season, but they will win some games, they'll bully their way through some stretches, but until the team is flexible as a whole again, they will have more than their fair share of struggles.  Playoffs next season?  Unlikely.

There were still a lot of large contracts on this Bruins team and it was a struggle some nights, it would seem, for this club.  Some nights they were the big, bad Bruins and the other nights, they were just chum being devoured by any team on any given night.  The management and coaching staff got votes of confidence this season, so they will likely have one more crack at the can for the coming year, but since they did miss the playoffs the last couple of years, their seats are going to be a whole lot warmer, likely from day one.

2017 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
David Krejci 7.250 Zdeno Chara 6.917 Tuukka Rask 7.000
Patrice Bergeron 6.875
Brad Marchand 4.500
Matt Beleskey 3.800
Jimmy Hayes 2.300
Ryan Spooner 0.950
David Pastrnak 0.925
Jake DeBrusk 0.925 Dennis Seidenberg 4.000 Zane McIntyre 0.925
Zach Senyshyn 0.925 Adam McQuaid 2.750 Malcolm Subban 0.925
Danton Heinen 0.873 Rob O'Gara 0.925 Daniel Vladar 0.743
Zac Rinaldo 0.850 Jakub Zboril 0.925
Austin Czarnik 0.818 Matt Grzelcyk 0.859
Sean Kuraly 0.809 Brandon Carlo 0.820
Frank Vatrano 0.793 Linus Arnesson 0.818
Noel Acciari 0.793
Anton Blidh 0.784
Colton Hargrove 0.738
Colby Cave 0.655

The Bruins still have a lot of pool worthy talent in their forward ranks for next season, but they are also coming with some lumpy contracts as well.  Depth on the blueline takes a good hit from the free agency syndrome, but it does also allow for a little extra flexibility somewhere in there, something that has to be managed wisely.  I don't think poolies are necessarily going to shy away from this team, but I would still be rather weary about how much production they will get.

There is something to be excited about, when it comes to possible rookies for the Bruins next season, as one of the two goalies, Zane McIntyre or Malcolm Subban should be making the jump to back-up next season and if Gustavsson's numbers were any indication, that should make them worthy of a selection, albeit a late one.  I get the feeling that we could also possibly get excited about Jake DeBrusk up front or even Brandon Carlo on the blueline, each have some real upside and this team would likely love an extra entry-level contract or two, keeping down costs.

Needs at the 2016 Entry Draft

The Bruins not only have their own pick in the 1st round of this year's draft, but they also have San Jose's, thanks to the quick turnaround deal that saw Martin Jones head to the Sharks to lead their playoff run.  Of course, we don't know where the Sharks will finish today, but it will be in the last four picks, but that's still another 1st round pick.

As much as the Bruins could use a little bit more help on the blueline down the road, they could also use a little bit more help, regaining their identity of a being a big, tough team to play against.  Julien Gauthier, a big forward from Val-d'Or, has all the makings of being a prototypical Bruins power forward and that should come in handy in establishing their identity again.  Hard to handle, great size and decent hands around the net, possibly a good replacement for the long-departed Milan Lucic.

Possibly with San Jose's pick, they explore a blueliner, depending on what is left among the 1st round talent.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

There will be a certain kindness that free agency will bring to this Bruins team, as Loui Eriksson, John-Michael Liles, Torey Krug and Chris Kelly will all need new deals and their old deals, all of which were $3 million or better against the cap, will either get adjusted or moved along in this off-season.  Three of the four (Kelly, the exception) are the only pool worthy free agents among all the free agents on this team, so there are some heavy questions that need to be answered here.  Krug is the only one of the four that is a restricted free agent and has the best chance of being back for next season, but at what cost?

The Bruins have nine pool worthy players signed on for next season and they are coming in at $40.5 million and fortunately for them, they can somewhat justify having a Dennis Seidenberg or a Adam McQuaid on their non-worthy list, since they have a whole bunch of cheap or entry-level deals to support them.

Since the Bruins were pretty close to the playoffs in 2016, it does give the impression that they are only a few tinkering moves away from jumping back in there again after the 2017 season.  The free agent market will be a busy one and I fully expect the Bruins to be waving around their chequebook, looking for some good priced talent to come over to their side for next season (or more).  Still, it's hard to commit to a prediction about a team, before you really know how serious they are going to be in the Summer, but I can't see them biding their time and giving their youth a push, that just doesn't seem like a Bruins thing to do.  No, they'll push the market, they'll get one or two good names and then look to fill in the gaps from within.  The breaking point right now, looks to be the aging Zdeno Chara, since he'll turn 40 next season and the Bruins certainly don't have enough behind him, if he isn't the same guy next year.  Right now, I don't see the Bruins making the playoffs in 2017, but they'll be pretty good shape for the drafts, both expansion and entry, when they come around.

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