Trade deadline additions complicating Bruins’ Expansion Draft plans
Don Sweeney swung for the fences at the trade deadline. The initial results gave the Bruins a much-needed shot in the arm as they carry a four-game win streak into Buffalo for Tuesday’s tilt with an improved, but still lowly Sabres bunch.
Taylor Hall, Mike Reilly and Curtis Lazar all received rave reviews in their first four games. Hall provided a significant boost to the secondary scoring and 5v5 offensive issues. Reilly provides a needed steady left-handed puck-moving presence. Lazar’s energy and versatility gave a struggling Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner increased confidence.
Between the trade deadline additions and a slew of injured on the mend — highlighted by Matt Grzelcyk’s scheduled return for Tuesday’s contest in Western New York — the Bruins have a brighter outlook following a two-month stretch full of ups and downs. Yet, Sweeney’s additions provided another interesting wrinkle for the off-season.
The NHL will usher in the Seattle Kraken as the league’s 32nd franchise come the summer. Every other team — except for the Vegas Golden Knights — will need to submit their Expansion Draft protection list shortly after the Stanley Cup Final concludes.
The final protection decisions weren’t going to be easy for Sweeney to begin with. Adding Hall, Reilly and Lazar further complicates Boston’s Expansion Draft process.
Of course, things could change between now and the protection deadline. A few of the noted unrestricted free agents, like Hall, Reilly, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak, could ink contract extensions beforehand. Sweeney could risk exposing them for nothing in return, but Kraken GM Ron Francis also assumes the prospect of failing to sign any pending UFA they select on July 21.
With that in mind — and a little help from Cap Friendly’s Expansion Draft simulator tool — here’s an early stab projecting who the Bruins will protect from Seattle.
Forwards: Brad Marchand (NMC), Patrice Bergeron (NMC), Charlie Coyle (NMC), Taylor Hall (pending UFA), David Pastrnak, Craig Smith and Jake DeBrusk
Rationale: I went back and forth on protecting a potential UFA forward — or even two with Krejci. I leaned toward keeping Hall for the time being. He’s performing like he wants to be a Bruin for the long-term in the very early part of his tenure.
Hall isn’t the elite player pundits projected him to be when the Oilers selected him with the top overall pick over a decade ago. But the veteran winger produces at a solid level when he’s fully engaged in battle. This might change if the Bruins and Hall don’t sign a contract extension beforehand, but for now, I’m opting to protect the 2018 Hart Trophy winner over Krejci among pending UFAs.
Bergeron, Marchand and Coyle have protective status with their no-movement clauses. Pastrnak isn’t going anywhere. This leaves two spots open.
Amidst the new arrivals, Smith continued his torrid run. In a season full of injuries and inconsistency, Bruce Cassidy moved Smith up and down his lineup. His versatility and a sensational 18-points-in-16-games stretch deserves protection.
Now comes the final decision: DeBrusk, Nick Ritchie or Trent Frederic. Boy was this one difficult.
One option is a favorite for NESN’s 7th Player Award following a bounce-back season. Another option became a fan-favorite with his spirited fights and heavy presence in the bottom-six. But, even in a down season, I’m opting for DeBrusk. He’s finding a rhythm of late with Coyle and Ritchie skating on his weak side wing. The Edmonton native isn’t worth giving up on just yet.
Defensemen: Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo (pending RFA) and Matt Grzelcyk
Rationale: The Bruins have a rare luxury of having two young right-shot blue-liners anchoring their D in Carlo and McAvoy.
I’ve liked what I’ve seen from Reilly so far, and he could very well replace Grzelcyk on the protection list. Jeremy Lauzon provides another intriguing option, but he doesn’t possess the same coveted puck-moving traits as Reilly and Grzelcyk do.
Goalie: Tuukka Rask (pending UFA)
Rationale: The Bruins don’t have to worry about protecting Jeremy Swayman as he’s exempt from exposure. That’s one of the few fortunate Expansion Draft trends going for them. This prompts an easy call for Sweeney to protect Rask over Jaroslav Halak, Dan Vladar and Callum Booth.
Regardless of any altering developments, the Kraken will have a fine selection of Bruins to choose from on July 21. Unlike the Vegas Expansion Draft a few years back, Sweeney will likely see a significant asset packing up for the Pacific Northwest.