(With the season ready to begin, we’re trying out some new writers. This piece comes from Tommy McArdle. If you’re interested in writing, let us know!)
After a subpar 2016-2017 season marred by injuries, this season begins with Matt Beleskey facing a crossroads of sorts in his Bruins career.
Beleskey, 29, arrived in Boston in 2015 fresh off pf a 22-goal, 32-point campaign in Anaheim that made him a highly coveted free agent.
When the Bruins picked him up, some were skeptical of the decision to give a middle-six left-winger $3.8 million per season for five years based off of one twenty goal season.
At the time, it made some sense why the Bruins coveted Beleskey: the team had just traded away Milan Lucic and was looking to replace his unique combination of size, physicality, and skill.
Of course, Beleskey is no Lucic. He’s not as big as Lucic. He’s not as intimidating as Lucic was in his prime. He’s never once hit 40 points in a season.
However, Beleskey did produce a career-high 37 points in his first season in Boston, only seven points less than Lucic himself produced in his final season in black and gold.
That first season saw Beleskey on David Krejci or Ryan Spooner’s left wing as he established himself as a cost-effective replacement for Lucic by playing a similarly physical style of hockey, leading Bruins forwards with 260 hits.
And then it all came apart.
The 2016-2017 season, comparatively speaking, was a mess for the veteran left-winger. Thanks to injuries and one or two healthy scratches, Beleskey appeared in only 49 games for the Bruins last season. He scored only eight points. His shooting percentage dipped to 3.9 percent.
His limited games-played in turn limited him to only 98 hits, still good for second most amongst Bruins forwards last season. Even in the playoffs, head coach Bruce Cassidy only felt comfortable skating Beleskey in three of Boston’s six first round games against the Ottawa Senators, in which he never saw more than nine minutes of ice time.
Beleskey still has three years left on his contract with the Bruins and a modified no trade clause, according to CapFriendly. His $3.8 million cap hit, on the higher side for a bottom-six forward, would be hard to trade away unless Beleskey bounces back in the 2017-2018 season.
Even so, it remains fairly affordable for the team with so many of the team’s young forwards and defensemen still on rookie contracts.
The more imminent problem for Beleskey is that a mass of younger, cheaper talent is entering Boston’s system. The preseason proved that they have a lot of players ready to battle for an NHL spot now, not later.
Just fighting for left wing spots alone are Jake Debrusk, who appears ready to assume his place on David Krejci’s left wing, Danton Heinen, Sean Kuraly, Peter Cehlarik, Tim Schaller, and Frank Vatrano.
Considering Brad Marchand is the team’s surefire first-line left wing, there are simply too many players vying for too few spots.
Beleskey’s spot on the NHL roster to start this season is most likely assured, thanks to his veteran status. He’ll need to re-establish his presence on the ice to give Bruce Cassidy a reason to let the rookies develop in Providence a bit longer.
The Bruins will likely spread their depth across the roster this season, so even if Beleskey finds himself on the third or fourth lines, he could land with a speedy, gifted passer like Ryan Spooner or Austin Czarnik.
The onus is on him, then, to get back to what earned him that five-year contract with Boston in the first place and provide solid depth goal scoring.
If not, he’ll find himself the team’s thirteenth forward again pretty quickly.