Throughout the next few days, the Bruins Daily staff will be handing out their grades for players and management from the 2016-17 season. Today in Part 1, we’ll assess the Bruins forwards. Check back on Friday for Part 2 as we examine the Bruins’ defensemen and goalies.
Whether it was skilled guys like Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak or players who continued to disappoint like Jimmy Hayes, the Bruins forwards had a wide range of grades from our three esteemed ‘professors’, including your’s truly. In those assessments, it’s safe to say that many of the forwards on the list got a nice bump with the late February coaching change.
As general manager Don Sweeney hinted at his year-end press conference, the Bruins are likely to protect seven forwards from the Expansion Draft that takes place in a little over a month. While he ponders over his decisions, here is a year in review of the Bruins forwards.
Brad Marchand (Tim Rosenthal – TR)
Over the last two seasons, Brad Marchand has become one of the more well-rounded scorers in the league.
There’s no denying that when he’s on his game, the Bruins are a hard team to beat. In a three-month span from January to March, Marchand inserted himself in the Hart Trophy discussion. In that span, he tallied 48 points and scored two or more goals in eight contests. Marchand’s scoring touch resulted in more power play time where he added a career-high 24 power play points to go along with the other career bests of 39 goals, 46 assists and 85 points – shattering last year’s totals of 37-24-61.
The one thing that prevented Marchand from getting a slightly higher grade came in Game No. 80 of the regular season when he earned a two-game ban for spearing Lightning defenseman Jake Dotchin. Returning to the team just in time for the postseason, Marchand’s lone highlight came with his game-winner in Game 1 up in Ottawa.
Though he certainly would’ve loved to have a better postseason (one goal and three assists in six games), Marchand has turned into one of the prolific players in the National Hockey League. As long as he stays on the ice and away from hearing from the league’s department of Player Safety, Marchand is only going to get better. The Bruins are fortunate to have him for eight more years.
Patrice Bergeron (Bob Snow – BS)
“Warrior” describes Bergeron’s 2016-17 season – more for his grit and character than on-ice performance.
Bergeron plays a key role in Canada’s World Cup victory in late September. Then he misses the first three games with an undisclosed injury while welcoming a son as the regular season begins. Then he goes the next 36 games with a career-low 12 points – all indications that he is battling some form of injury, likely from World-Cup play. Mum was the word the entire season about that from all parties Black and Gold.
Fast forward to the end of the season with the announcement that Bergeron is facing off-season surgery (completed earlier this week) for a hernia he likely endured for more than six months. After those first 36 games, Bergeron put up 41 points in his last 43 games – with a plus-12. It didn’t hurt to have Marchand on his line, but some of that benefit was offset by added work to keep tabs on a variety of wingers on the other side.
David Pastrnak (Anthony Travalgia – AT)
The 2016-17 season was Pastrnak’s coming out party. Setting career highs in games played, (75) goals, (34) assists, (36) and points, (70) Pastrnak inserted himself into the conversation of some of the game’s best goal scorers. The Czech-born winger was one of the Bruins most consistent forwards this past season and was a big reason as to why they made a postseason return for the first time in three seasons.
Whether he scored highlight reel goals or lit the lamp in the gritty areas, Pastrnak did it all in 2016-17. At 20, Pastrnak has a long way to go before being looked upon as a player in the top echelon of NHL talent. But when you talk about the youth movement that is currently taking place in the NHL, Pastrnak has to be mentioned in the group.
David Backes (TR)
Production wise, the Bruins could have used more from Backes, especially after signing him to a 5-year deal worth $30 million in the off-season. His 38 points (17 goals, 21 assists) in 2016-17 was his lowest offensive output since his second year in the league back in 2007-08.
But some of the things Backes did to help the Black and Gold in his first season didn’t have to show up in the form of statistics. Whether it was dropping the gloves, delivering hits or battling for loose pucks, Backes was engaged in the play more often than not.
Given his history of injuries and wear and tear that comes with the territory of being a power forward, Backes’ best offensive days may be behind him. Will the Bruins need more output from Backes in order to take the next step in 2017-18? Yes. Is Backes’ presence as a leader in the locker room needed going forward? The answer to that is also, yes.
Whether he plays at wing or center next year, the former Blues captain will look for a little more consistency now that his first year in a new home is under his belt.
David Krejci (AT)
You may not realize this because of how inconsistent he was at times, but Krejci tied a career high in goals with 23. For the first time since the 2008-09 season, Krejci appeared in all 82 regular season games. Known for his reliable two-way play, Krejci finished the season a minus-12, the worst of his 10-year tenure as a Bruin.
Unless he is willing to waive it, Krejci’s no-trade clause will have him protected in this June’s Expansion Draft. But if teams come calling on the 31-year-old, Sweeney and company should be listening.
Drew Stafford (AT)
After another trade deadline came and went without the Bruins making a big splash, fans were left frustrated as a playoff bubble team didn’t do much to better their chances of a postseason return. Little did they know no move was the best move and the rental of Stafford was actually a benefit to the Black and Gold.
In the 18 games Stafford played with the Bruins, the former Winnipeg Jet tallied four goals and four assists, all while giving Cassidy a solid body that could move up and down the lineup.
For a team that was lacking scoring depth, Stafford was a solid addition for the Bruins. There seems to be mutual interest between Stafford and the Bruins. Don’t be surprised to see 31-year old back in the mix next season
Frank Vatrano (BS)
The preseason buzz was that 2016-17 was going to be the breakout season for the local kid and former UMass-Amherst star with the rocket shot and nose for the net. He scored eight goals in his first 39 NHL games last season.
Those preseason expectations took a hit early when he blew out an ankle in training camp and did not return until December 22. His 7-10-17 – including four power-play goals – in 44 games a likely reflection of playing catch-up all season. Again from the left side of the lineup where the Bruins were starved for production all season.
Vatrano’s a bona fide talent who has yet to provide consistency. He’ll get another chance to do that in 2017-18 – the final year of his entry-level contract.
Ryan Spooner (TR)
Can one argue that Spooner really didn’t fit into Julien’s system? Yes, there is a case for that, especially with Julien’s more conservative philosophy. So an early-February coaching change from Julien to Bruce Cassidy should have given Spooner a fresh perspective, right?
Well, more often than not, Spooner was more of a detriment than an asset. Yes, the speedy and skilled Spooner showed some glimpses of potential during his time in Boston, especially whenever David Krejci went down to injury in 2014-15 and 2015-16. An increase in ice time led to the center finding a little bit of a groove with increased minutes.
Unfortunately for Spooner, he never showed that potential on a consistent basis, especially in 2016-17. Whether it was transitioning to wing to start the season or the move back to center, Spooner took a big step back in production than the year before when he tallied 49 points (13 goals, 36 assists) in 80 games. In 78 games this year, he only had 39 points (11 goals, 28 assists) and was a minus player more often than not. Whether it was a lack of puck possession from his line or his defensive liability, Spooner never could break through in Boston and saw himself watching the last two games of the season from high above rinkside.
As he hits the RFA market, the chances of Spooner realizing his potential in Boston are not good. Most likely, his journey as a professional hockey player will take him somewhere else in 2017-18.
Matt Beleskey (BS)
Beleskey was one of Sweeney’s first free-agent signings in 2015. He was supposed to take some of that Anaheim production of 22 goals the year before to the left wing in the middle of the Bruins’ lineup at $19 million over five years. The Bruins are on the hook for some $12 million more through 2020.
Last year, Beleskey had 15 goals in 80 games; this year three in 49 games with a minus-10 while missing six weeks in mid-season with a knee injury. All of which created that gaping hole on the left wing that Stafford plugged with some contributions after the trade deadline.
Not likely Beleskey has any trade value. Not likely Sweeney wants any part of buying out the contract at some $8 million. But the reality is that Beleskey’s production has fallen far short of expectations in The Hub.
Jimmy Hayes (TR)
We go from one disappointing 2015 off-season acquisition to another. Unlike Beleskey, who at least provided some production in his first season, the Dorchester-born forward hasn’t lived up to his hometown billing since coming over from the Panthers for Reilly Smith two years ago this July.
Instead of providing the Bruins with secondary scoring depth or any physicality, Hayes watched more games from the Level 9 press box. The former Boston College standout went nine months without tallying a single point before finally breaking his drought back on Thanksgiving weekend against the Lightning.
How productive has Hayes – who is making $2.1 million per year – been since returning home? In 133 games played, he has a grand total of 34 points on 15 goals and 19 assists. This year? Two goals and three assists in 58 games.
All of Hayes’ offensive output – or lack thereof – makes him a buyout candidate in the off-season, especially as he enters the final year of his contract.
Dominic Moore (BS)
Let’s put it out there just one final time: Dom Moore deserved the “7th Player Award.” Sweeney signed the former Harvard captain and NHL journeyman to a one-year deal at $925,000. Anything comparable for another year should be a priority for the GM.
All Moore did was fly under the radar screen for all 82 games with 11 goals and 14 assists and a plus-2. Only Moore, Krejci and Brandon Carlo played in every regular season contest. Add Moore’s penalty-killing skills to his rock-solid versatility on the fourth line at either center or wing, and it all added up to a bargain for the Bruins.
At 36, Moore has a few good years left in his tank.
Riley Nash (TR)
Like his fellow linemate Moore, Nash provided stability to a fourth line that struggled to find ground in the previous two seasons.
Signing a two-year contract this off-season after spending his first four seasons in Carolina, the 28-year-old was a reliable option to the Bruins’ bottom six tallying 19 points on seven goals and twelve assists. Whether it was killing penalties or providing energy at needed times, Nash gave the Bruins a solid effort on a nightly basis and, like Moore was another good candidate for the “7th Player Award.”
Late in the season, Nash became a secondary scoring option at a time where the Bruins needed it the most. His two goals against the Islanders in late March put the Black and Gold back in the top eight and they never looked back. That capped off not only a good first year in Boston for Nash, but also made him a candidate on Sweeney’s list of protected players for the Expansion Draft.
Noel Acciari (TR)
While sometimes the news may come across as disappointing whenever a player is called down, sometimes it will work to that person’s benefit. In the case of Noel Acciari, his stint in Providence indeed proved to be beneficial after starting the season in Boston.
As he struggled to regain his footing following a lower-body injury in November – that caused him to miss a month of action – Acciari was sent down I-95 south to gain some confidence and add a scoring touch. The Providence College alum did just that tallying 14 goals in 30 games with the Baby B’s while also doing what he does best – provide energy and engaging physically.
A more confident Acciari returned to Boston for the final two months of the season, and he did not miss a beat. Whether it was delivering a solid hit, providing timely offense – as seen with the first two goals of his career coming against the Predators and Panthers – or helping out in other areas like the penalty kill, Acciari’s production and ice time increased with every contest.
As the playoffs rolled around, Acciari continued to thrive in his four appearances against the Senators. The Bruins should have confidence in the development of the 25-year-old as a solid bottom-six forward.
Tim Schaller (BS)
After a four-year career at Providence College, Schaller spent his first three professional years in the Sabres’ organization, mostly in the AHL. The Merrimack, New Hampshire, native was signed by Sweeney on another roll of the thrifty dice (1 year at $600,000 on a two-way deal) that his NHL frame at 6-foot-2 and 219 would give some boost to the third or fourth line with his left shot.
Schaller played in 59 regular season games with seven goals and seven assists that also included two game-winners. He provided decent contributions for his paycheck in a variety of revolving roles, especially on the fourth line.
Austin Czarnik (TR)
With a forward spot or two up for grabs at training camp, Austin Czarnik showed some promise in the preseason. So much so where he filled one of those vacancies and became one of eight Bruins to play their first NHL game on opening night in Columbus.
Unfortunately for Czarnik, his training camp success didn’t carry over into the regular season. With 13 points (5 goals, 8 assists) and a minus-10 rating – combined with battling injuries – Czarnik couldn’t quite find his footing during his time in Boston.
Though he only has two points in seven playoff games down in Providence, Czarnik was a little more consistent at the AHL level averaging a little over a point per game during the regular season. He’ll have a tall climb, however, if he wants to regain a spot in the Bruins lineup to open 2017-18, especially with fellow P-Bruins teammate Jake DeBrusk’s progression in his first season of professional hockey.
Incompletes – Sean Kuraly, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Danton Heinen, Peter Cehlarik, Anton Blidh