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Looking back on Matt Beleskey in Boston

Matt Beleskey never lived up to the expectations of his five-year, $18 million contract. Let’s talk about it.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Boston Bruins Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Believe it or not, Matt Beleskey was considered one of the hottest free agents on the market in 2015. He was coming off a career-best 22-goal and 32-point season with the Anaheim Ducks, and his eight playoff goals caused his value to spiral upward. So, when the Boston Bruins inked the forward to a five-year, $19 million contract on the first day of free agency, many thought the B’s were getting a player on the rise.

Anaheim Ducks v Chicago Blackhawks - Game Six
The hard-nosed play of Beleskey is probably what initally attracted Don Sweeney’s attention
Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

A lot was said about the signing at the time about the signing. The $3.8 million AAV was significantly lower than what most people expected Beleskey to receive, but some thought the five years was a little too risky. No one knew if he was capable of repeating (or surpassing) his career season, but the Bruins took the risk, and for the first season, it worked out.

Beleskey suited up in 80 games during his first season in Boston, tallying 15 goals and 37 points. He played much of the season alongside David Krejci and David Pastrnak in the Bruins’ top-six, played on the power-play, and registered a plus-6 rating. Sure, the Bruins probably would have liked Beleskey to net more than 15 goals, but the 37 points was a new career-high. Unfortunately, the Bruins missed the playoffs in 2016, so we were not able to see if Beleskey would have elevated his game like he did the previous year with the Ducks, but he had a fine 2015-2016 season. It was not stellar by any means, but it was not bad, either. He was oftentimes one of the hardest working players on the ice and his style really allowed him to fit into the Boston mold (for the first season anyway).

Now, for the million dollar question: What happened after that?

Well, Beleskey did not get off to a good start to the 2016-2017 campaign, going pointless in his first ten games and posting a minus rating in five of those ten. He also struggled to build chemistry with his new linemates (he played several games with Austin Czarnik and Jimmy Hayes). Then, in early December, Beleskey suffered a right knee injury that sidelined him for six weeks. So, his slow start turned into a month and a half on the shelf. When Beleskey returned to the lineup in mid-January, nothing went well for him. Not only did the knee injury slow him down (literally), it seemed to shatter his confidence, as he posted only three points in his last 25 games to finish the season with three goals and eight points. He then went pointless in three playoff games against Ottawa.

Boston Bruins v Ottawa Senators - Game One
An injury and a rough playoff series has him on the ropes.
Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images

While the 2016-2017 season was a promising one for the Bruins as a whole, it was not the easiest year for Beleskey. Between injuries and inconsistent play, Beleskey fell out of favor with many fans, and the expectations of him were pretty low heading into the 2017-2018 season.

And those low expectations panned out in the worst way. Beleskey registered zero points in fourteen games—not to mention being a healthy scratch on several occasions—before finally being waived on December 14. Upon clearing waivers, Beleskey was subsequently assigned to the Providence Bruins, where he remained until February 25, when the Bruins shipped him to the Rangers as part of the Rick Nash trade.

At the start of the 2017 training camp, the Bruins made it known that basically everyone had a clean slate and no roles were guaranteed. Obviously, the Patrice Bergerons and Zdeno Charas of the world were not in jeopardy of losing their spots, but the other seasoned veterans on the roster knew there were young guys knocking on the door.

Several of those young players managed to open it, too. Jake DeBrusk flew onto the scene, along with Anders Bjork and Sean Kuraly, who followed up his inspiring 2017 postseason performance with a strong preseason. So, even with three rookie forwards making the opening night roster, Beleskey still had his spot on the team. He worked hard in the offseason and during training camp to regain his footing and get back on track. Moreover. the Bruins were allowing him to get through his funk, and head coach Bruce Cassidy was giving him several opportunities to earn a role.

Unfortunately for Beleskey, he essentially ran out of time get his game back. He was hit with a four-punch combo of not producing, had no chemistry with his teammates, the knee injury he suffered in 2016 appeared to be severely affecting his skating ability, and the influx of young players over his two-and-a-half seasons in Boston made him look slower and slower.

And that was the end, the 29-year-old hit the waiver wire and never appeared in the Spoked B again. In 21 games with Providence, he posted four goals, two assists, and a minus-eight rating.

Initially, the Bruins—with Claude Julien at the helm—signed Beleskey to be the rugged, effective player he was during his last season in Anaheim. The Bruins saw a lot of that in his first season in Boston, but it became less and less apparent as time went on, and eventually evaporated.

Despite being given several chances to solidify a role, Beleskey never really gelled under Cassidy. His ice time decreased and his role diminished. It was clear he did not fit into Cassidy’s fast-paced style. Looking back, it is easy to jump on GM Don Sweeney over his signing of Beleskey. Giving $18 million over the course of five years to a guy who only reached 20-goal plateau once was a risk, as stated above. Again, the risk paid off for the first season.

Chicago Blackhawks v Boston Bruins Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

However, the $3.8 million price tag became a lot for a guy who recorded only eight points in his second season and no points in his final season. The Bruins did retain half of Beleskey’s salary for the next two seasons, but it made more sense to shed half of it by trading him instead of keeping him at the full price until 2020. There are a lot of different ways to sum up Beleskey’s tenure with the Bruins. He arrived as a top free agent and performed pretty well in his first season, living up to the hype that made him one of the best available players that summer.

But in the following two seasons, Beleskey lost just about every asset that made him such a coveted player on July 1, 2015. He was never known for being fast, but he slowed considerably. He could not generate nor produce any offense. He still threw his weight around here and there, but it was not nearly as effective as it was early on in his tenure. Mix in all this with the $3.8 million AAV, it became easy to say that the Bruins overpaid for Beleskey three years ago. All they can say is that at the time? It seemed like a sure thing.

As the Bruins rise in competition, the potential was there for Beleskey to be a big part of this team. Had Beleskey lived up to his expectations in years two and three, his services would have been pretty darn useful in the postseason.

Oh, and he would still probably be here.

While it looked like the Beleskey contract was smaller than what most were expecting at first, it turned out to be a thorn in the Bruins’ sides for two seasons. And now, the Bruins are paying half of it just so Beleskey can play elsewhere.

But that is the risk of signing players to lucrative contracts on the opening day of free agency. Sometimes teams have to overpay to get what they want, and that is what the Bruins did in 2015. It really was too bad to see Beleskey fall off. He generally seems like a good guy and it was awesome to see how much he embraced living in Boston and wearing the Spoked B.

Not all athletes love the city they play in like Beleskey loved Boston. And even if he didn’t have the best tenure, that’s still something.