There was no shortage of chaos surrounding the Boston Bruins over the last 24 hours.
And just think, Tuukka Rask’s impending return is the least of their concerns.
Indeed, the social media chatter and sports radio calls regarding the Bruins reached peaked levels. Monday’s news cycle included Rask resuming his on-ice rehab; the NHL Player Safety Department assessing a three-game suspension to Brad Marchand for slew-footing Canucks defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Jake DeBrusk’s trade request going public.
Losing Marchand for three pivotal games this week provides a significant concern in and of itself. Handling DeBrusk’s situation will only add another layer of awkwardness for the Bruins’ coaching staff.
Minus Bruce Cassidy.
On Tuesday, Boston’s sixth-year bench boss entered COVID-19 protocol — albeit with mild symptoms. The Bruins tabbed assistant coach Joe Sacco to keep the team afloat in Cassidy’s absence.
Oh, and the Bruins can’t call anyone up from Providence following their COVID breakout.
Nor will they have Anton Blidh as he heals from an upper-body injury from Ekman-Larsson’s hit from behind late in Sunday’s 3-2 win.
What happens next is anyone’s guess. The Bruins will likely only have one extra body available for the next few days: defenseman Connor Clifton. With a slate featuring the Red Wings, Predators and Lightning every other night, they can ill-afford to lose anyone to injury or illness.
The Bruins trotted out GM Don Sweeney and Patrice Bergeron to address the various developments with the media following Tuesday’s morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena. Marchand capped off the slate of press conferences regarding his suspension and his quarrel with Rangers forward Aretmi Panarin last Friday.
With each party wearing a mask, the trio hardly spoke in cliches aside from mentioning the next-man-up mentality. Yet, they were all forthright in their answers with the various reporters in attendance in Brighton.
Here’s a further look at how the Bruins are approaching this tumultuous period.
In an ideal world, the Bruins would’ve sat DeBrusk for a second straight game. The recent developments forced their hand, however.
DeBrusk’s name became a frequent rumbling on the rumor mill following the worst season of his career in 2020-21. Amid the heightened chatter, the Bruins expect a better effort from DeBrusk as he attempts to up his trade value.
“Jake has certainly made it known that he would prefer a new opportunity. We expect him to play well. But this comes down to the Boston Bruins needing to make a hockey decision, and for Jake, it comes down to him playing his best hockey,” Sweeney said to the press.
“I’m not surprised that this came up. I’ve been in the know on this for quite some time, and we’ve been trying to find a hockey trade that helps the Boston Bruins and accommodate what Jake needs best. There’s a balance there.”
As Boston’s front office weighs its options, the expectations for DeBrusk inside the locker room haven’t changed.
“Things don’t change,” Bergeron said. “We’re going to make Jake [accountable] and expect him to be accountable like the rest of the guys.”
DeBrusk will skate in a fourth-line role with Tomas Nosek — the other healthy scratch upfront from Sunday — and Curtis Lazar. He’ll likely find himself in a variety of roles before Sweeney finds a home.
Either way, the awkward dynamic will undoubtedly increase with each day DeBrusk remains in black and gold.
Repeat offenders need not apply.
In their continuous inconsistent approach with supplemental discipline — especially in handling similar events with P.K. Subban — the NHL’s Player Safety Department assessed Marchand a three-game ban for his slew foot of Ekman-Larsson.
Marchand didn’t engage in any discussions with Player Safety since his last three-game ban following his high hit on Marcus Johansson on Jan. 24, 2018. His reputation went from a pest, skilled winger to a more respected top-tier forward over the last several years.
“I have tried over the last four years to get away from the reputation that I had. I think I have done an extremely good job at that. Early on, I know that I crossed over the line a lot of times. It’s unfortunate that it continues to haunt me. If you go back [to my last suspension], it’s 310-plus games of good hard [play]. I play hard, there’s no question, and I compete. And I’m no longer the player that I was that had to break into the league and [play] the way I had to establish myself.”
Perhaps the league had a larger microscope on Marchand after goading Panarin into a $5,000 fine. The Rangers forward threw his glove at Marchand after Boston’s alternate captain delivered a verbal jab regarding his popularity in Russia.
Nothing appeared intentional on Marchand’s end. Yet, Panarin’s outspoken history speaking out against Russian President Vladimir Putin escalated the tensions following Marchand’s verbal jab.
“I said that no one in Russia likes him,” Marchand said of his rhetoric to Panarin. “So if that is now what is setting guys over the edge, then it’s the softest league in the world, and no one should be allowed to say anything because there are a lot worse things said than that.”
Even with his improved reputation, Marchand will have closer eyes on him once he returns from his three-game ban a week from Wednesday in Vancouver.
Under ordinary circumstances, the Bruins would’ve called up a forward or two to fill a roster spot in Marchand’s and Blidh’s absence.
Well, this is anything but routine.
With COVID cases in the double-digits, the AHL postponed Providence’s upcoming weekend slate. The outbreak prevented the Bruins from promoting Zach Senyshyn, Jack Studnicka or Oskar Steen ahead of Tuesday’s tilt with the rebuilding Red Wings.
“It’s not an option for us to bring someone up from Providence. They’re in a lockdown situation,” Sweeney said. “They had a significant breakout associated with their really difficult travel over the weekend and situations within their division.”
The Bruins have 12 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies to work with, likely for the next week. Marchand will provide a needed reinforcement ahead of their trip to Western Canada.
As one set of options closes for Sweeney, another significant decision lies ahead.
Rask entered another morning of on-ice rehab before the Bruins took to the ice for their pregame skate.
Doctors originally prognosticated a February-March return for Rask. But, his daily progression may advance his potential return date to January.
Sweeney envisioned this looming decision with Rask even after signing Linus Ullmark to a 4-year, $20 million contract. The Bruins have $2.2 million of projected cap space to work with. That number could alter one way or the other with the impending DeBrusk trade.
The inconsistent defensive outings and the mixed results with the Ullmark-Jeremy Swayman tandem essentially forced Sweeney’s hand toward a public endorsement of Rask following Tuesday’s on-ice session. Barring any setbacks, Sweeney and Rask will likely meet at the negotiating table sooner rather than later.
“If he’s healthy and he wants to play, he’s likely to be a part of our group,” Sweeney said. “There’s a general understanding that Tuukka has a decision to make on his health first and foremost. And then when he’s officially made the decision, then we’ll find the common ground.”
As they stand on somewhat rocky ground, the Bruins would love nothing more than to persevere through this rough patch before Rask’s decision.
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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