With the news that Jake DeBrusk (GTD) and Adam McQuaid are close to returning to game action, the Bruins need to make some roster moves to remain at or under the 23 player roster maximum. With the emergence of key younger players, coupled with the high profile struggles of a handful of more established players, the Bruins have a tougher choice to make than many would have been expected earlier this season.
Today's very early arrival to #NHLBruins practice: Injured D Adam McQuaid, who is skating/shooting on own (out since Oct. 19; broken fibula). He's been skating since Nov. 29.— Mike Loftus (@MLoftus_Ledger) December 6, 2017
When their situation is boiled down, the Bruins management will likely have to remove a defenseman and a forward from it’s roster The options available to them in descending order of likelihood: sending waiver exempt player(s) to Providence, placing non waiver exempt player(s) on waivers to Providence, a conditioning loan, or via trade. Below are the players who are waiver exempt, as well as non waiver exempt players likeliest to be moved or waived.
Let’s get this out the way: Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo aren’t going anywhere. They are both crucial to the team’s success and are irreplaceable at this point and time. That leaves 9 players (excluding DeBrusk) with varying chances of being moved or sent down, 4 that are waiver exempt and 5 that are not. Let’s break down the argument for, and against moving each player.
- Sean Kuraly 25 GP, 3G, 3A: There is really only one argument for sending the Dublin, Ohio native down - he is waiver exempt and unlike other teammates that are also exempt, he doesn’t have the top six potential and high end skill as them. That alone may leave him the odd man out, at least for the time being. The downside: he has really come on strong recently with a bit of a unexpected scoring touch, especially welcome for a 4th line player.
- Anders Bjork 18GP, 3G, 6A: Like Kuraly, Bjork is waiver exempt but unlike Kuraly, he has a much higher upside offensively and when healthy has been effective alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. The flip side: since returning from concussion he hasn’t been quite the same player, and management may deem he could use some time in AHL to get game back.
- Danton Heinen 21 GP, 4G, 9A: The final waiver exempt forward on the list, Heinen also has the strongest NHL success thus far, and brings a well rounded game that has earned him an impressive 15:40 aTOI. It is unlikely he gets sent down, even with him being waiver exempt, simply because he has been too good to justify it. Weirder things have happened though, this is the NHL after all.
- Frank Vatrano 18GP, 2G, 0A: The first forward that would require waivers if sent down to Providence. The local kid has been nothing short of a lightning rod of commentary and opinions over the last year or so, and his play this season has done nothing to quell the debate. 2 points over 18 games just isn’t worthy of a top 9 role, and his skill-set doesn’t work on a traditional 4th line, like the one the Bruins are currently using. If he didn’t have to pass through waivers, I believe he would already have been sent down. Unfortunately, he does and there’s a solid chance he would be claimed if exposed, risking losing a NHL caliber young player for nothing. It’s hard to see a team as PR conscious as the Bruins risking that. With all that said, the team may have reached the point that unless they can trade him, they may have to risk exposing him to play the newer kids who have actually been producing.
- Matt Beleskey 14GP, 0G, 0A: Can the team continue to carry a player who is not contributing to the score sheet, and who is arguably blocking younger players from developing? That’s the question with Beleskey, who despite being a hard worker and a good locker room player, is simply not playing NHL caliber hockey. While he would require being exposed to waivers to be sent down, there is a very slim chance he would be claimed as a result of his increasingly scary contract. On top of a slight risk of losing him to waivers, the Bruins would have to pay his full salary ($3.8 million) in the AHL, while only gaining a slight amount of cap relief ($1.025 million). Are the Bruin’s willing to pay a player that kind of money to play in the AHL? Unlikely, in my opinion.
- Tim Schaller 25 GP, 3G, 3A: A fan favorite, the New Hampshire native is a versatile bottom six option best suited for a fourth line role. If he was waiver exempt he would be perhaps the easiest choice, but with the risk of losing the jack of all trades for nothing, it’s not the likeliest option in my eyes. Nonetheless, the team may find it easier to risk losing a fourth line player than taking away ice time from the young prospects or losing a player like Frank Vatrano on waivers.
- Ryan Spooner 10GP, 1G, 3A: No, Ryan Spooner isn’t going to be sent down, period. However, he may very well be traded by a team that has struggled to make space for him as a center, and who had a drawn out attempt at re-signing him last season. He is undoubtedly a NHL player, but with this offensive skill and expiring contract and shaky future as a Bruin, he is the likeliest Bruin to be traded this season.
- Matt Grzelcyk 7GP, 1G, 1A: The Massachusetts native is waiver exempt and likely would have been an easy choice to send down a few short weeks ago, but his recent strong play has made sending him down a more complicated matter. While he has been better than Paul Postma, Postma requires waivers and has the combination of size and experience that coaches love in a 7th defenseman.
- Paul Postma 11GP, 0G, 1A: Frankly, Paul Postma’s tenure as a Bruin hasn’t been particularly fruitful. Despite that, the team will be unlikely to expose him to waivers over the younger, better Matt Grzelcyk, who hasn’t proven he can be a consistent NHL player, and whose size can be a challenge on a team that already has Torey Krug on it’s roster. At 28 years old, the team could potentially decide to play a prospect like Grzelcyk over him, despite those issues. Remember, coaches love their “vets” and “you can’t teach size” is still a thing with many coaches.
What do you think the team will do? What do you think the team should do? No matter which way they choose, there will be risks and downsides. It will be interesting to see how they handle it, but after a brutal stretch of injuries, having a healthy team is a good problem to have.