30 IN 30 - BOSTON BRUINS (13th place)
Who woulda thought a coaching change to the Bruins' already strong possession game could produce such a profound effect on team success. Boston was nearly dead in the water before Bruce Cassidy took the reign as the interim head coach and reeled off 18 wins to clinch 3rd in the Atlantic. Impressive turnaround for a team most people were rooting against purely out of their general hatred for Brad Marchand and his filthy slew foots. Look, we all wish a player like Scott Stevens were still around to catch him with his head down, but Marchand appears content on burning us on an even deeper level with his newfound scoring touch. Blame Crosby for teaching this guy during their time together on Team Canada that there's more to his game than being a pest . Hopefully people aren't seething too badly after thinking about the collection of suspendible plays he's gotten away with. On a more positive note, at least we can all agree that Patrice Bergeron is one of the best all around centres in the game, year-in, year-out. No player has reaped the rewards of advanced stats more than him. Finally media and fans alike have grown to appreciate his contribution to team success more than ever before with his league best 61.12 Corsi percentage (amongst players who have played a minimum of 50 minutes).
PROTECTION LIST STRUCTURE
- Bergeron (*NMC)
- Krejci (*NMC)
- Backes (*NMC)
- Chara (*NMC)
Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo are looking to step into bigger roles, making the need to protect 4 defencemen in a hypothetical 8-1 model a complete waste. Mix in the cluster of 'No Movement Clauses' up front and the Bruins will need to utilize the 7-3-1 structure to protect young sniper David Pastrnak and up start forward Ryan Spooner. Where the list becomes a bit trickier is the 7th forward and 3rd defecemen slots. A number of experienced NHL calibre players are available to fill them, but expansion will force a judgment call.
Who's been protected by the Bruins' strong possession game, and who remains valuable in isolation?
One of the big decisions facing Bruins management will be the third and final D-man spot in their protection list. The three obvious suspects looking to fill that void are Adam McQuaid, Colin Miller, and Kevan Miller.
Adam McQuaid is the elder statesman of the group, and carries with him the most experience in a top four role at the NHL level. His 6'4'' 215 pound frame provides the team another imposing physical force on the back end to go along with a surprisingly consistent Corsi history. Whether this is a product of the team around him or not, is an argument that could be made for several players on the Bruins, but his pairing with Tory Krug the last two seasons at minimum shows the team's trust in him as a stay at home defencemen. At a $2.75M cap hit, McQuaid may be the most expensive of the group, but he is in no way a financial burden for a team and surprisingly carries appealing term for an organization looking to re-negotiate deals with Carlo and McAvoy by the time his contract expires in 2019.
The Miller-Miller defence pair makes for a tough individual analysis. After logging significant minutes together in 2016-17, the advanced stats for both players should predictably mirror each other quite closely. However, Colin appears to have improved the longer they stay apart, while Kevan experienced a drop from his rather impressive career average. Say what you will about which one is more offensive or defensive, but both players took a hit in their possession numbers after we adjusted for a misalignment in their zone start differentials. Colin Miller particularly looks to have been protected in his on-ice assignments by coaching staff, with his 2015-16 numbers showing an even greater dip in defensive zone starts. His top-ranked goal differential from the group may speak to these offensive opportunities, even if his point production failed to match this on-ice impact. Kevan Miller may be the more consistent player, due to his experience in the league, but in our analysis, his age becomes an issue when addressing his overall value. At 28, as opposed to 24, he has likely hit his ceiling as a player. Improvements in his game over and above his current statistical rate are unlikely, meaning the player you see is, more probable than not, the best you're gonna get from him on a yearly basis. The younger Miller instead has room to grow. He may have been protected, but with experience still to be gained, should foster more responsibility defensively.
Although McQuaid provides role-defined value, we would protect Colin Miller. His age, current cap hit, and future RFA status provide the most appeal to the Golden Knights. If the Bruins act first and remove him as an option, Vegas will likely look for defensive options elsewhere in the draft.
IS THE 7TH FORWARD THAT HARD TO PICK?
Depending on who you ask, the seventh forward spot is either locked in or a complete mess. Before the 2016-17 campaign, Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes would've been the shoo-ins for this pick, but it's amazing how abruptly 82 games can change the lay of the land. Both forwards failed to contribute offensively, and struggled to stay in the lineup, due to injury or healthy scratch. A player like Riley Nash has also snuck into the conversation after a strong finish to the season, and a track record in checking line and penalty killing roles. Last but not least, let's not forget about the since-departed Russian sniper, Alexander Khokhlachev. Although management and player fail to see eye-to-eye, the young forward still holds NHL trade value. George McPhee seems to have a way with KHL skaters, maintaining patience with their transition across the Atlantic, and providing them the right environment to succeed. Playing alongside Vadim Shipachyov in the KHL may provide enough of a connection for the former AHL Allstar to return to North America if selected, and thus imposes the burden on Boston to at least consider protecting his NHL rights in the forward list.
From the stats outlined above, Matt Beleskey surprisingly still leads the group in most, if not all, categories over the past 3 seasons, despite his 2016-17 disaster. But with the cap hit of a 40+ point contributor, he appears to be expendable. Same can be said for Jimmy Hayes; although his contract is both lighter and shorter, he has failed to live up to expectations since being acquired. Hometown sentiment or not, Hayes hasn't provided enough of an impact to warrant an extension, even a cheap one.
Alex Khokhlachev is still a project, and a year away from a return, so his selection by Vegas (without a sweetener) is an unlikely one. Protection is unnecessary.
That leaves us with Riley Nash as our protection pick. In the grand scheme of the expansion process his value may be low - ie. for the Golden Knights to either keep him or trade him - but he has shown the most promise out of the group above, and did so at a discount rate of $900K.
George McPhee will be left with a tricky one in Boston, as the Bruins will indeed try to bait him with an expensive, experienced forward in Matt Beleskey. Career averages display a decent all-around contributor, but after falling flat last season, reality begins to sink in that he's a $3.8M/year 3rd liner under contract for 3 more seasons. For a team with the power to demand additional compensation in exchange for eating overpriced contracts, Beleskey's pay rate comes in over the Golden Knights' self-imposed limit. The Bruins lack of draft selections this summer will impede negotiation between the two sides, but frankly this could be for the best. Beleskey is only one season removed from a 37 point campaign, so the possibility of him bouncing back are still high enough for GM Don Sweeney to stand pat on his value and refuse aid in his potential expansion selection. Overall, the available crop of forwards above will offer little appeal to Vegas for selection.
On defence, serious consideration could be given to both Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller, as they remain viable NHL-calibre selections for a team left with so little options come draft day. However, adding a bottom-pair defender to a team with plenty of cap space to go sign one at will makes a standalone selection unlikely. A more advantageous scenario for Vegas would be the aided selection of either McQuaid or Miller, along with the NHL rights to Khokhlachev. McPhee has shown patience before with players under contract in the KHL; waiting a year for his contract with SKA St. Petersburg to expire should be easy enough. Why would the Bruins partake in such a deal? Well, it would be to impede our actual Vegas selection, Malcolm Subban.
The younger brother of P.K. may have become a forgotten man after his World Juniors appearance back in 2013, but rest assured he's still a big, athletic goalie prospect. The Bruins have rightfully brought him along slowly in Providence (AHL), allowing him to split duties with at least one other tender in all four of his professional seasons. Although he's appeared in only two NHL games, both stand as proof that he's not ready for the big stage quite yet. Comparing him to another young goalie available in the expansion draft, we don't see the massive spikes, and even bigger falls in save percentage than that of Jack Campbell. Subban has remained relatively consistent with a GAA below 2.50 and a save percentage that hovers between .910 and .920. Both stats need improvement before he takes the next step, but his age and experience allow him to stay in the American league another year without stalling his development. Throw in the marketing opportunities available to the Golden Knights if they have the younger brother of P.K. Subban - one of the biggest personalities in the game - in net and this looks like a done deal. Ticket sales aside, Malcolm Subban remains our selection for the league's newest franchise.
The 2015-16 NHL entry draft will haunt the Bruins for years to come. In no way do we wish badly upon the young men selected, but seriously, who would you rather have today; Jakub Zboril, Jake DeBrusk, and Zachary Senyshyn, or the skaters selected with the next 3 picks - Matthew Barzal, Kyle Connor, and Thomas Chabot? With the benefit of hindsight, Bruins management probably wish they could go back and do things differently that day.
Try not to dwell on this too much Bruin fans, you got this McAvoy kid to look forward to.
Next up: Ottawa Senators