With the start of Bruins training camp little more than a month away, we're still very much in offseason mode with vacations and summer plans still at the forefront of most people involved with the NHL. Still, players are skating at this point and summer workout programs are coming to an end this month as captain's practices begin to get going in earnest, so hockey's return is right around the corner.
With that in mind, it's time to clean out the summer Hagg Bag mailbag full of questions and wonderment from a Black and Gold offseason that's brought out as many questions as answers to this point. As always, these are real fans with real tweets to my Twitter account using the #HaggBag hashtag, real emails to my JHaggerty@nbcuni.com email address and messages to my NBC Sports Boston Facebook page. Now on to the bag:
Will JFK stay up with Boston this year? Expectations for Anders Bjork coming back from injury? Any action on a winger for Krejci? Potential trades that can actually happen and aren't just pipedreams? Any update on a 2nd LD? #haggbagg
JH: I like this. Corey isn't fooling around and he's getting right to the point with a number of pointed Bruins questions. So let's jump in one at a time. As far as JFK goes, I think it's entirely up to the way that he plays in camp. Clearly, he's a candidate for the third-line center gig after the departure of Riley Nash and I'd certainly put first-round pick Trent Frederic in that category as well. I think Sean Kuraly and Joakim Nordstrom would probably fit into that category, giving the B's a number of options at a spot that garnered a lot of production for them last season.
In an ideal world, JFK or Frederic steps up and shows they're ready to take over the third line in camp and then teams with David Backes on the third line to learn the ropes in the NHL. But neither of those players has enough pro experience to assume that is going to happen this fall, and they're certainly not the finished AHL product that either Jake DeBrusk or Danton Heinen was at this point last season. So, it's a giant "we'll see" for JFK with him holding the kind of cerebral, two-way ability at center that would be a great fit behind Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci if he shows that he can handle it in the NHL. The 15 goals and 32 points in 58 games was pretty solid production in Providence last season, but he may also need more development time before he's ready.
The expectation for Bjork is that he's going to be ready to hold down an NHL winger job this season with a really good chance for him to win a top-six role if he shows that he's ready for the challenge after last season's shoulder surgery. The speed and skill are most definitely there, but he's going to have to gain a little more toughness on and off the puck if he's going to play that kind of role for the Bruins.
Any action on a winger for Krejci? Nope. Not to this point and there may not be ahead of camp until all 31 teams around the league see what they have in the preseason.
I also don't see any urgency for another left-shot defenseman right now after the signing of John Moore. If anything, the expectation is that one D-man is going to be dealt in camp with eight qualified NHL defensemen under contract for this season. It could be Torey Krug on the move if it's a blockbuster return for the Black and Gold. Still, that's not something the Bruins want to do unless it's really going to be a win for their hockey team because Krug is a dynamite offensive D-man. Among D-men, only guys named Erik Karlsson, Victor Hedman, Brent Burns and John Klingberg have scored more points than him over the last two seasons.
Hey Joe, Are there any wingers available to replace Rick Nash? I mean he wasn't great but we need veteran depth to play with Krejci...
JH: With Jeff Skinner moved to the Buffalo Sabres, Artemi Panarin would appear to be the only bonafide sniper winger that still might be available in a trade prior to the start of the regular season. The return for Skinner wasn't mind-blowing. It included a top prospect and three draft picks without a first-round pick or NHL roster player being involved. But I also don't think Columbus is quite as desperate to deal him this summer, and there are just as many questions about his willingness to sign long-term in a place such as Boston. Clearly, the Blue Jackets would need more of a package that was going to help them now rather than a rebuilding team as Carolina did, and the Bruins would have those kinds of pieces to make that sort of deal strictly from an assets perspective. But it feels to me like the Bruins have made peace with going into camp with the group they've got right now, and then they'll reassess before the regular season begins, or ahead of the trade deadline this season. Perhaps Wayne Simmonds ends up becoming available before it's all said and done and he'd be a great fit for the Krejci line if the trade price is right.
When will Sweeney be back on the hot seat? He hasn't been able to make the important trades or signings. Overpays for bad players, makes a lot of bad draft picks. Wasting the last years of Chara and Bergeron.
JH: Just a friendly piece of advice, but I think your Twitter handle might be a little too on the nose. That aside, I think Don Sweeney will probably be on the hot seat when he deserves to be on the hot seat. Let's be honest here: The Bruins have made the playoffs two years in a row, they put up a 112-point season last year while nearly winning the Atlantic Division and they've got a cupboard full of talented young players that just about any other NHL general manager would gladly have. Every GM has their strengths and weaknesses and the splashy trades and marquee free-agent signings certainly don't appear to be Sweeney's wheelhouse at this point.
But the fact that the Bruins are getting invited to woo the big-ticket free agents and that they're a team clearly on the rise means that Sweeney is doing plenty right and he's doing well in draft-and-development where he wanted to excel. Did the Bruins botch things in the 2015 draft when they passed over Matt Barzal, Kyle Connor and Brock Boeser with their three consecutive mid-round first-round picks? Yeah, they definitely did.
But I think they've also done enough things right the past few years (how about replacing Claude Julien with Bruce Cassidy, which many Bruins fans really didn't want to see?) to earn the right to see it through and not have to face being put "on the hot seat" after an underwhelming summer improvement plan. Things have been made more difficult by improvement within their division from Toronto, Tampa and Buffalo among others. They are clearly a step below the Maple Leafs and Lightning right now. Could Sweeney have done better in his tenure? Sure, especially toward the beginning when he was still learning the ropes. But I think he's grown into the gig and has the Bruins very much pointed in the right direction.
Can't wait to see Castle Rock, but waiting for the entire series to become available before I commit to another streaming service lol. Worth it? No hockey questions, but dang I can't WAIT for hockey season to start. DYING from withdrawal.
--Tia Major (@MizLicketySplit)
JH: I can't wait either! And Castle Rock on Hulu is very, very good. It's an original story that takes place within the Stephen King universe and has all the familiar settings and spookiness that you'd associate with something inspired by his literary works. I mean, the series takes place at Shawshank Prison for goodness sakes. I actually kind of like that they're releasing it in week-to-week episodic installments rather than dumping the whole series all at once like Netflix does so much of the time these days.
Who is gonna be on the first game roster that many ppl will find as a surprise? donato is not a surprise btw
--Joshua Hanson (@hanson_maypac12)
JH: Do you make the rules around here about what constitutes a surprise? I don't think so. Haha. Seriously, I'd go with Jack Studnicka as a possible surprise. The odds are against it happening and he's expected to return to junior hockey after training camp, but he's in a situation where he could be a candidate who could really pop at third-line center. It was a small sample size obviously, but he looked comfortable with a goal and five points in five games for Providence at the end of last season. He also was one of the best performers at Bruins development camp earlier this summer and clearly seems to be on the fast track toward getting to the NHL.
The shot and play around the net are strong for a young player and his skating game is pretty solid for a 19-year-old.
Will he be good enough to really hop over Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Trent Frederic as well as the NHL players expected to compete for the third-line center spot? That's a tall order and it would certainly register as a surprise if he can pull it off. So there's your "surprise."
I loved Solo. I guess I am in the minority. #haggbagg
@Joe Pacheco (@joepacheco33)
JH: I loved Solo too, buddy. I think that Solo paid the price for the Last Jedi, which a lot of Star Wars fans really, really, really hated. I didn't completely hate it, but was definitely disappointed by some of the stuff that felt like the worst of Star Wars rather than the best of Star Wars. The whole middle portion of the movie was like something straight out of the prequels and that was a very good thing. It got to the point that I was just waiting for an actor to go on some rant about how much they hate sand.
Are the sabers loading up to make a run or are they going to be like Edmonton and have a lot of talent and still flounder around?
--Brad Thompson (@coachbrad16)
JH: Well, the Sabres now have something the Oilers never did in Rasmus Dahlin. So a No. 1 defenseman is a good place to start if you're truly looking to build a winner. Sure it may take a season or two before Dahlin is truly good enough to dominate games and help transform Buffalo, but they are headed in the right direction with their core group, their youngsters and a good acquisition in Jeff Skinner. Who knows? They might even surprise and compete for a playoff spot while sneaking up on a lot of teams, but I think they might be a couple of years away from consistently winning.
Are the Oilers going to be bad again this season? I'm not so sure about that either. But they don't have the "franchise defenseman" on their roster and that makes it a lot more difficult to be a consistent, top winner in the NHL. Just look at the teams that win the Cup every season and how few have done it without a bonafide No. 1 guy on the back end.
Any chance Pasta comes off the first line for at least the beginning of next season and gets paired with Krejci?
--Matias Hallichuck (@mhall3333)
JH: I definitely think there's a chance that could happen. But this is what I would do if I were the Bruins coaching staff: I'd load up with the Perfection Line of Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak against teams that had a suspect defense or depth issues where that top line could just blow the team out of the water. I'd break it up to create a more diversified attack against the stronger defensive teams. Clearly, Tampa exposed the Bruins as a group that was a little top heavy and not quite good enough beyond their top line against a big, strong and quality D-corps. They need to find combinations that work if that again becomes the case in the playoffs.
So why not use the regular season to find a formula that will work against those teams just in case you aren't able to land the Rick Nash-type scoring winger that it feels like the Bruins need on that second line?
Either way, I hope we see plenty of Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak together again as a trio this season because I'm a firm believer that you don't run away from something that gives the other team game-planning nightmares.
Where do you see Cehlarik if healthy? Looked good beside Krejci before a knee on knee with Hunwick.
JH: Cehlarik is big (6-foot-2, 202 pounds) and skilled and he definitely gives the Bruins a different look than many of their other wingers. But he's also having a hard time staying healthy and on the ice and he's been inconsistent in the NHL. He looked good playing with David Krejci at points, but I also think he hasn't quite played to his size and strength at other points while showing some good skill with the puck on his stick. He's only 23 and he's only played a couple of seasons in North America, so this season is going to be a big one for him.
He's a guy who isn't really high on the radar right now for an NHL spot coming out of camp and maybe that's not such a bad thing. Danton Heinen was in a similar position last season and he ended up becoming one of their most effective rookies. He forced his way into the lineup following a strong camp. If Cehlarik were to step up and become a big, strong and productive power forward-type for the Bruins this season, that would solve a lot of Boston's problems up front headed into this season.
Think the Bruins have a shot at Artemi Panarin? Been hearing his name all summer
--Matthew McWade (@MatthewMcWade)
JH: I think they have a Dumb & Dumber-level shot. And if you're going to have a Dumb & Dumber level shot of something happening, who better to have running your hockey team than the legendary Sea Bass himself? We'll see on Panarin, but if I were a Bruins fan, I don't think I'd be getting my hopes up that it's going to happen anytime soon. Maybe more like Wayne Simmonds at the trade deadline, but then again we'll have to see where both Boston and Philly are at that point. That's it for this week's Hagg Bag...see you at the rink.