Training camp is a weird time for NHL teams.
Rosters are huge, filled with a mixture of kids, invitees, veterans trying to keep their careers going and stars trying to shake off as much rust as possible.
The kids are trying to make an impression on the team brass, showing that they deserve a spot in the show. Veterans or roster shoo-ins are usually just trying to get through camp without an injury.
But the common thread through most training camps is pretty simple: those who perform get rewarded for that performance.
In the case of Peter Cehlarik, the Bruins took a look at his preseason performance, shrugged, and gave him a bus ticket down 95 to Providence.
To get it out of the way: no, the suggestion isn’t that “everyone deserves time in the NHL,” like some kind of participation trophy. It’s actually pretty simple: guys who do well should be rewarded, while guys who aren’t quite there yet shouldn’t be.
Take the famed Hunt For A Third Line Center: it was assumed that Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Trent Frederic and (maybe) Jack Studnicka were battling for that role. In the end, none of the three proved himself head or shoulders above the rest, and the role looks like it will go to the more steady Sean Kuraly.
In that case, the result made sense. JFK, Frederic and Studnicka showed flashes, but couldn’t offer Bruce Cassidy the consistently high level of play he was looking for.
In the case of Cehlarik, the opposite is true. One could argue that Cehlarik was the Bruins’ most reliable forward in the preseason. Take a look at the numbers below:
- 4GP, 1G, 4A, 5PTS
- 3GP, 1G, 1A, 2 PTS
- 1GP, 0PTS
Two of those guys made the NHL roster out of camp, and one didn’t. Looking at it like that, you wouldn’t expect the first set of numbers to belong to the guy who got cut two days before the season started.
But that’s exactly what happened, as Cehlarik (1st bullet) was sent packing while Ryan Donato (2nd bullet) and Anders Bjork (3rd bullet) will be sticking around.
It’s hard to say, really. Donato is clearly still riding the pedigree of his play at the Olympics and strong stretch at the end of this past regular season, where he put up 9 points in 12 games. He didn’t have a great preseason, but the Bruins clearly believe he has the talent to produce regularly at the NHL level.
Bjork is a different case altogether. He appeared in just one preseason game as he continues to work his way back from injury, and didn’t do a ton in that stinker against the Flyers on Saturday.
Yet the Bruins chose to keep him on the NHL roster, where he’ll probably start as a 13th forward.
The common arguments against Cehlarik are as follows:
- “He can’t produce consistently at the NHL level!”
- “He’d be better off getting consistent playing time in the AHL instead!”
Both arguments are, frankly, weak at best:
- Cehlarik was playing the best professional hockey of his career when he was injured last November against Pittsburgh. No, he wasn’t Alexander Ovechkin, but he put up two points in three games and was beginning to show some chemistry with the team’s playmakers.
- Why? Cehlarik has already shown the ability to produce consistently in the AHL. He has put up 61 points in his last 84 AHL regular season games. The argument applies more to Bjork, who could use 17 minutes a night to get back to game shape; instead, the Bruins seem to think he’d be well served by eating popcorn on the 9th floor.
To be fair, the best argument against Cehlarik comes down to space: Cehlarik is best suited for left-wing play, and there are only really two spots available: 3LW and 4LW (kind of).
Based on today’s lines, it looks like the Bruins have (for now) decided to keep the first line together, promote Danton Heinen and put Donato in the 3LW spot.
One could make an argument that based on preseason performance, Cehlarik deserves more of a look than Donato; however, the Bruins are (rightly so) high on Donato and think he can provide more than Cehlarik.
Even if you accept the argument above, the situation boils down to a question of whether or not Cehlarik deserves to be the 13th forward over Bjork. The answer, simply, is yes.
Is the press box where Cehlarik wants to be? No, of course not.
But keeping him up over, say, Bjork, would accomplish two things: it would give Bjork a couple weeks to get his skating legs back under him in the AHL and would reward Cehlarik for what was, by all accounts, a great preseason.
Do players need cookies and pats on the head? No, probably not. Cehlarik has been a pro for several years now, and will hopefully handle the demotion by working harder and getting back to the pros soon.
It’s not really a question of “oh look, Cehlarik is a new face, let’s play him instead!”
It’s a question of whether or not the Bruins are trying to reward players who have strong preseasons, or whether or not inertia rules and guys in play stay in play.
In this case, they sent the wrong message.