Somewhere Jake DeBrusk’s biggest detractors are crying in a corner, but Nick Ritchie’s lovers have a reason to celebrate.
DeBrusk was protected by the Bruins in the expansion draft and Ritchie was unprotected, but also unpicked, Wednesday when the Seattle Kraken officially announced their initial roster Wednesday.
Of course, there’s another camp that loves Jeremy Lauzon, loves cheap, homegrown defenseman, and can’t explain what Bruins general manager Don Sweeney’s plan is for the left side of his defense.
Lauzon was the Kraken’s Boston pick, and now the 2015 second-round pick will continue his development (at age 24) in the Pacific Northwest.
What’s next for the Bruins? Here’s a glance at questions Sweeney has to answer in the weeks ahead:
1. Who’s left?
Matt Grzelcyk, Jakub Zboril, John Moore, Urho Vaakanainen, Jack Ahcan — that’s who.
Those are the remaining signed left-shot defensemen on the Bruins’ roster. Woof. Especially at the defensive end.
Obviously, the Bruins are going to have to be active in free agency or swing a major trade to fill that top-four, 20-minute-plus slot president Cam Neely identified as a need earlier this offseason.
But first let’s look at the incumbents. You know what you’re getting from Grzelcyk, who’s signed for the next three years at less than $4 million. Obviously, the Bruins believe he’s a major piece of their new core.
There’s no telling if Moore will ever be able to stay healthy. And let’s face it, even healthy he’s not better than the lowest-caliber third-pair defenseman.
Zboril and Vaakanainen still have a long way to go to make Sweeney look smart for picking them as first-rounders. But they’ll be given every opportunity to win a spot on whichever pair Grzelcyk and the new addition don’t occupy.
Ahcan is the intriguing one here. The Bruins obviously want to get bigger and if the 5-foot-8 St. Cloud State product earns a job the Bruin are back in the situation they were in with Grzelcyk and Torey Krug as part of their top six. But Ahcan already got three games of NHL experience last season and the Bruins are clearly high on him at 24. If they accomplish their goal of solidifying the top four with a veteran, they might give Ahcan the on-the-job training that Zboril and Lauzon got last year.
2. Who’s coming in from the outside?
First and foremost, the Bruins should be doing all they can to land Ryan Suter. He would give them the most bang for their buck and cost them nothing more than cap space.
Once Suter is tucked away, they still have to address their depth on the left side unless they’re really going to just trust the kids again. The return of Mike Reilly would be helpful, but you saw the ups and downs with him in the postseason. A small price tag would make him more attractive considering the hope is he wouldn’t be able to hold off a push from a younger player.
If Reilly leaves, it might be time to give Shayne Gostisbehere a run if he finds himself in a position of taking a cheap, one-year “show-me” deal.
3. What about the rest of free agency?
Multiple insiders are reporting the Bruins are closing in on $6 million, four-year deal to bring Taylor Hall back. That’s solid value. One has to hope, though, that they need a Hall-type player more than they need a Zach Hyman-type. Of course, it all goes for naught if David Krejci doesn’t come back for a hometown discount. Then the Bruins will be in the reverse position of what they’ve dealt with the past several years — they’ll be strong on the wing but missing a second-line center. The Bruins have the cap space to address multiple positions, but only if they know what Krejci and Tuukka Rask’s plans are for the next season.
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4. How about that goalie position?
We know Jaroslav Halak is gone. We know Jeremy Swayman looked good. What we don’t know is if Rask is going to sign and then not play until the second half of the season or if he’s going to be out of the Bruins’ plans completely. If Rask is hanging around, but unable to play because of offseason surgery, it’s going to be difficult for Sweeney to supplement Swayman with a veteran No. 2. What goalie would sign with Boston knowing they lose their job as soon as Rask is healthy? Could Dan Vladar hold down the fort? Swayman/Vladar is not the type of goalie tandem a team with Stanley Cup aspirations leans on.
5. What about Jake?
The Bruins retained the aforementioned DeBrusk. Even at his worst, DeBrusk is a solid player with value around the league. He’s streaky, and scouts and management understand that. Few players, though, produce as well as he does when he’s streaking the right way. The Bruins will get the benefit of his ups, especially without him dealing with a bout of COVID, and then they can decide whether they should cash him in with a trade or keep him as part of the new core. Letting him go for nothing never made sense except to Twitter GMs that will be singing his praises during his first five-game goal-scoring streak.