By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — After a bit of a lull in the aftermath of the Washington Capitals defeating the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup final, the NHL offseason has kicked back into gear.
It started with Oliver Ekman-Larsson signing an extension with the Arizona Coyotes last week and continued Tuesday with Mike Hoffman getting traded from Ottawa to San Jose and then again to Florida within a matter of hours.
The first round of the 2018 NHL Draft will be Friday in Dallas with subsequent rounds on Saturday. Then the free-agent interview period starts Sunday leading up to the opening of the free agent market on July 1.
With activity picking up, here are a few Bruins-related thoughts:
*It appears goaltender Anton Khudobin’s undying devotion to Boston and the Bruins’ desperate need to have a reliable backup to play 25-30 games to give proper rest to Tuukka Rask haven’t been enough to get a new contract done for Khudobin. There’s no need to panic about that just yet because the interview period isn’t likely to change Khudobin’s mind about Boston, and more likely general manager Don Sweeney is waiting to see how things fare with retaining other players (where the Bruins stand with UFA Rick Nash) or importing help (the Bruins have admitted they’re in the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes). Once Sweeney has a better idea where the salary cap ceiling is (scheduled to be announced this week) and where he stands with other players, he can get down to the nitty-gritty of determining whether to offer Khudobin close to $2 million on a two-year contract or maybe go that third year with a little less of a cap hit.
For those who are panicked the Bruins could be committing $9 to the goaltending position: Chill out. Contending teams without a No. 1 on an entry-level contract typically have to dole out that much to make sure shots are stopped. The ever-popular Martin Jones, the guys the Bruins “got rid of” instead of Rask (LOL), will be making $5.75 million this season and his backup, Aaron Dell, hits the Sharks’ cap for $1.9 million. Washington pays Braden Holtby $6.1 million and if they keep Philipp Grubauer they’re going to have to pay him somewhere in the $2-3 million range, at least. If they trade him, well then they might see a drop-off in their backup goaltender department. Winnipeg is going to have to pay Connor Hellebuyck like a No. 1 probably starting this season despite owing Steve Mason $4.1 million. New Jersey’s Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid are on the books for a total of $7.2 million. Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh can enjoy having Andrei Vasilevskiy and Matt Murray, respectively, on their affordable second contracts, but they’re going to cash in during or before the summer 2020.
Even after they devote $2 million in cap space to Khudobin, the Bruins are going to have $10-12 million in remaining space. They’re not handicapped by how much they compensate their goaltenders and what they might be slightly overpaying for that position comes back to them in fine play and peace of mind. Having reliable goaltenders makes young, mistake-prone defense corps look much better.
*The idea that the Bruins have to get bigger at left-side defense has become this summer’s phrase that pays. The constant comparisons the Bruins brass makes to Washington’s defense corps with Michal Kempny and Christian Djoos just don’t stand up because those guys are each 6 feet tall, while Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk are generously 5-foot-9. However, getting larger may not be as urgent as some are making it sound.
Two reasons why:
1. There’s room for improvement from both diminutive defensemen. The 24-year-old Grzelcyk still has a lot of experience to gain. And if Kevan Miller’s late-20s development has taught us anything it’s that the 27-year-old Krug, with a similar work ethic to Miller’s, could still get better. Either smaller player automatically gets better playing next to Brandon Carlo or another Bruins’ right-shot. And that leads me to reason No. 2 …
2. Charlie McAvoy and Zdeno Chara aren’t married, and with the strides McAvoy made as a rookie one would have to hope that he’s pretty close to being the dominant player on a pair. How much better would Krug be if he played regularly with a fully developed McAvoy? That would allow Chara and Carlo to be a shutdown pair to complement two two-way pairs. Sometimes team improvement can be achieved through the growth and improvement of individuals and a redeployment of said players. As the Bruins get deeper up front and the game continues to be more about getting rid of the puck quick and avoiding having to defend, they may be able to get better on the back end without swinging the big trade everyone’s clamoring for.
*Even with Anders Bjork returning from injury and Ryan Donato set to be a full-time pro, the Bruins could use a veteran forward for their top six so they’re not stuck paying a hefty price for one at the trade deadline again. Now is the time to put some of that cap space to work. Kovalchuk and Rick Nash seem like the top two targets, but if the Bruins miss out they could maybe better allocate their funds to retain Riley Nash and bring in a lower-key UFA win like Thomas Vanek or Pat Maroon. That would certainly create more of the competition Sweeney loves and increase the Bruins’ flexibility because they could get away with a cheaper cap charge and limit a contract with one of the lesser-heralded UFAs at three years. The bidding for Kovalchuk and Rick Nash might increase term that wouldn’t be comfortable for the Bruins, who are wisely committed to developing and then taking care of their younger players.