Let me start by saying that the Seattle Kraken’s best pick from the Bruins’ pool of available players will be Connor Clifton in next Wednesday’s expansion draft.
The 26-year-old defenseman is signed up for a tidy $1 million for each of the next two seasons, has proven he can be a second- or third-pair stalwart, decent penalty killer and strong character player on and off the ice. You can never have too many defensemen, a philosophy Seattle general manager Ron Francis subscribed to in his days with Carolina. I wouldn’t expect him to do any different now.
Clifton is a better option than Jeremy Lauzon or Jakub Zboril, two developing defensemen we still don’t know much about. With Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, and Matt Grzelcyk protected, Clifton is the next best available defenseman from the Bruins’ list.
And if Clifton is the pick, Bruins GM Don Sweeney gets credit for locking up the player to that cap-friendly deal in July 2019. He basically distracted the Kraken’s eyes from forwards that might turn out to be better down the road for their lineup than Clifton, who is replaceable through the draft or the Bruins’ fine ability to sign college free agents of Clifton’s ilk.
Nonetheless, Sweeney has to make a decision about which forward won’t tempt Francis to look away from the defense pool. Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak will obviously be protected, Charlie Coyle has a no-move clause. The Bruins didn’t sign Craig Smith for three years to just lose him for one season.
That leaves two more forward slots (there are no logical scenarios where the Bruins go the eight-skater route). Jake DeBrusk 100 percent gets protected regardless of how much you, coach Bruce Cassidy and the Bruins’ brass have soured on him. You can’t lose a player of his talent for nothing, no matter how much his stock may have dropped.
DeBrusk is streaky, but when he’s streaking in the right direction he’s everything the Bruins hoped for on draft day in 2015. He might never be consistent enough to be a top-six forward on a championship-caliber team, even though he’ll probably always be paid as though he fills that role. That’s why the Bruins will have to decide, either this offseason or during the season, whether to trade him.
Maybe you let him build up some capital in the upcoming season and then deal him at the deadline for someone more established. Or perhaps he winds up as a solid third-line option at his $3.675 million cap hit and helps you go deep in the playoffs. Then the more difficult decision becomes what to do with him when he’s again a restricted free agent in 2022. But there’s no way you just cut ties with a player that you know half the league thinks it can get on track to be a more consistent contributor.
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That leaves the decision for the last forward slot, which coincidentally would also make a pretty awesome fight, one Sweeney might consider arranging to make his decision for him. Nick Ritchie vs. Trent Frederic is both Sweeney’s decision now, and if Seattle takes someone else, could be a decision for Cassidy when it comes time to make a lineup this October.
Frederic is 23 to Ritchie’s 25, and the younger forward is locked in to make a little more than $1 million this season and next. Ritchie is a RFA who’s due a raise on his $1.5 million. When you look at pure finances, it’s kind of a no-brainer that you go with Frederic over Ritchie. Even based on talent, you have to put better odds on Frederic at least being a bottom-six regular with a consistent element of intimidation over Ritchie, who last season had a strong start but tapered off (especially when Ritchie figures to be out of the mix on the first power play).
Frederic’s versatility also gives the Bruins options in light of the potential departure of Sean Kuraly from the lineup as a UFA.
Sorry, Ondrej Kase fan club. Based on his recent health issues, it makes little sense for the Bruins to protect the former Anaheim speedster. Likewise the Mayor or Walpole might look weird in a Kraken sweater, but if Seattle wants a dose of Chris Wagner it can go ahead and really make this an easy draft for the Bruins.
So there you have it. In the end, Frederic and Ritchie will probably both remain Bruins property (good luck to Sweeney trying to come up with a fair contract that doesn’t blow up in his face for Ritchie) and Cliffy Hockey probably winds up moving to the Pacific Northwest.