Evaluating the Bruins’ Deadline Acquisitions

 

The Bruins were active in the week before the trade deadline, and chose to break the gridlock on big time forward by trading for Rick Nash the day before. Overall, their decisions have been smart ones: loading up for the playoffs in a year where the East seems to be wide open, although a couple of depth moves are obvious mistakes.

IN: Nick Holden (D)


OUT: Rob O’Gara (D), 2018 3rd Round Pick (BOS)

 

Nick Holden is not exactly a sexy pickup, especially considering the Bruins have been reported to be involved in the chase for Ryan McDonagh. Despite not having that brand name appeal, Holden is a solid depth defenseman. He is having a better year than the last, despite the Rangers being worse. Holden has above average relative expected goals impacts. This means that, relative to his team, the weighted shot quality (a combination of volume, position on the ice, and factors such as rebound shots and rushes) is improved when Holden is playing. In fact, Holden is better than Carlo, McQuaid and Kevan Miller when it comes to both relative corsi (shot attempts) and expected goals. Furthermore, Holden is better at drawing and not taking penalties than all three of those guys. Another thing to note about Holden is that he has been absolutely buried in defensive assignments by Alain Vigneault: he is in the second percentile in the NHL for offensive zone starts. Considering his positive impact on shot differential, expected goals and penalty differential, there is an argument to be made that Holden should be playing every night.

 

The Bruins had to give up Rob O’Gara and a third rounder in this year’s draft to get Holden. O’Gara got a cup of coffee in the NHL last year and played a handful of games at the start of this season while the Bruins’ defense was banged up. The sample size is too small to get any reliable information from shot metrics, but just from the eye test O’Gara looks to be a bottom pairing, stay at home type of guy. There’s nothing wrong with that, but its not exactly much to give up, particularly when you are chasing a cup. And then there’s the third-round pick: you’d be happy to get any kind of NHLer out of a third rounder on average.

 

This was a good trade for both teams. The Bruins acquired a defenseman who could is most likely an upgrade for their top six, while the Rangers shed an expiring contract and gained a prospect and a pick for their rebuild.

 

IN: 2018 3rd Round Pick (FLA)

 

OUT: Frank Vatrano

 

Again, this appears to be a trade that benefits both teams. Vatrano really had no place on the current Bruins roster. He was the 13th man on a team with considerable depth in the minors, and even more on the way from the NCAA. Vatrano has shown he loves to shoot the puck and probably has the makeup to be a 20-goal scorer given enough ice time.  The Panthers desperately needed a middle 6 winger by the looks of their depth chart before this trade. Vatrano has very good relative shot metrics. He improves both the quality and quantity of shots for his team when he is on the ice. However, he was a very sheltered forward at even strength this year, with some of the most generous offensive zone deployment in the league. After acquiring Florida’s pick, the Bruins managed to improve their third-round pick (which went to NYR) this year, moving it up roughly ten spots depending on where they finish.

 

IN: Rick Nash (50% Retained)

 

OUT: Matt Beleskey (50% Retained), Ryan Spooner, 2018 First Round Pick, Ryan Lindgren (D), 2019 7th Round Pick

 

                This is the big one. The Bruins made it clear they are going for it. Rick Nash is a perfect fit for David Krejci: a guy who can really score. Krejci hasn’t had a winger like this since Nathan Horton. Nash scores more than a goal per 60 minutes of ice time, which is among the elite goal scorers in the NHL. Furthermore, Nash draws penalties and has a positive relative expected goal percentage, meaning his team gets higher quality chances when he is on the ice. A common knock on Nash is his playoff performance. I can’t think of a player that has been unluckier with as many games played in the playoffs as Nash has. For reference, his career shooting percentage is around 12%. In the playoffs, its 5.7%. There is no way that you can attribute this to the quality of his shots. Expect that to turn around. In fact, you can probably apply this to his current regular season as well- he is shooting 9%, but still has 18 goals on the year. He is immediately the Bruins’ most dangerous goal scorer outside of Marchand. As a bonus, the Bruins got half of Beleskey’s contract off the books.

 

Considering the price of the better forwards at the deadline (a first, prospect and another late pick), the Bruins probably used Spooner as bait for the Rangers to take on the Beleskey contract. This is smart, because the Bruins’ championship window is undeniably the next few years. They need to clear as much dead cap as possible to help Bergeron and friends take a few more cracks at the cup before they get too old. The first rounder shouldn’t be too worrying either- considering that a late first round pick is essentially a second-round pick in terms of absolute value, and the value of draft picks falls steeply after you are out of the top 10. Losing Spooner hurts a little bit, but I would have been surprised if the impending RFA was re-signed this summer with all the depth in Providence that could do his job for less money. Many people have pointed out that Spooner has more points per game than Nash this year, but what they fail to acknowledge is that Spooner has been the most sheltered player in the league this season. He was getting a fantastic amount of starts in the offensive zone. He was also benefitting from a very high on ice shooting percentage, which is unlikely to continue.

 

Ryan Lindgren shouldn’t be considered a top tier prospect. In his D+2 year he has 7 points in 33 games. Even defensemen generally need to score against weaker competition to become NHLers in the future. That’s not saying that scoring guarantees you to be a NHLer, but it is very rare to see good players not score at lower levels. The inclusion of the seventh-round draft pick is another lottery ticket for the Rangers, who were very explicit about their rebuild.

 

IN: Brian Gionta (1 year, 700k)

 

OUT: Cap Space

 

                Ideally, Gionta never plays a game for the Bruins. He is awful. There isn’t much to say about this guy. His team gets outscored and outshot while he is on the ice. It’s fine to have him as the 13th forward and provide a little bit of locker room leadership, but that’s the most you want from him. In case of injury the B’s are better off going with 7 defensemen and 11 forwards. However, its not a big deal either way.

 

IN: Tommy Wingels

 

OUT: 2019 5th Round Pick

 

This is another perplexing one. Wingels isn’t good. He is probably worse than your average fourth line grinder. He should not be playing over any of the Bruins’ regular fourth liners. There is essentially no part of Wingels’ game that is possible to get excited about. I think even spending a fifth is a waste. The lottery ticket is better than the guy who shouldn’t be playing at all. In the end it is relatively inconsequential but still not the smartest decision.

 

 

Bottom Line

Bruins fans should be very happy with this deadline. They added a legitimate 4-5 defenseman with positive shot impacts, and a top line right wing that is immediately one of their most dangerous goal scorers all while dealing from a position of strength. The Bruins also lost Vatrano, a 13th forward, and effectively traded up in the third round of this year’s draft. The Bruins could afford to use some draft picks to improve their chance at a cup this year because of the number of solid prospects they have, and the fact that they have picked 5 times in the first round in the past three years. However, using one of those on a guy like Wingels was an obvious mistake. Plus, more importantly, going for it is just plain fun.  Its been a long time since the Bruins have been legitimate cup contenders, and the East looks like it is wide open. Buying was absolutely the correct choice in this situation.

 

 

 

 

What the Bruins Should Do This Summer

Every playoff loss is usually accompanied by fans and radio hosts demanding big money players to be traded, especially in a town like Boston. However, after some time to reflect on the loss to the Senators I’ve decided that the Bruins don’t need to blow it up or make any earth-shattering moves. I think it would have been a very different series with Krug, Carlo and a healthy Bergeron (who played the whole year with a sports hernia). On top of that, trades involving upwards of 6 million in salary are rare. With that in mind, I made this off-season game plan as realistic as possible. All the moves I made are plausible considering the front office’s past decisions. It’s more likely that the NHLPA will choose to use the escalator, but I worked off of the assumption that the cap will stay flat just to keep my decision making as conservative as possible.

 

Here is the projected roster:

bruinsgm2

 

Players that left via free agency/buyouts

John-Michael Liles:

Liles was a victim of the cap. I thought his play this year made it clear he is still a legitimate NHL defenseman.  Liles is an analytics darling. His GAR (goals over replacement) makes him an attractive defenseman for analytically minded teams, but the Bruins don’t have space for him. He isn’t taking Krug or Chara’s spot on the left, and Colin Miller still has plenty of room to grow as a defenseman because of his age. Liles will easily find a job this summer.

Drew Stafford:

Stafford was a good rental, but he’s a shot anchor and ideally Beleskey will take back his spot next to Krejci. Bruins also need the cap space.

Joe Morrow:

Morrow is probably tired of sitting in the press box, and I think his limited ice time this year shows that the Bruins don’t have too much confidence in him. He played quite a bit in the playoffs, but that was with a ridiculous number of injuries to the defensive core. Better for both parties if the Bruins and Morrow part ways.

Dominic Moore:

Moore is replaced by younger and cheaper players in this universe. He had a good year for a fourth liner, but the Bruins won’t have any problem filling in his role internally.

Jimmy Hayes:

If Hayes was hurt to end the year it may not be possible to buy him out. I’m going to assume he will pass his physical during the buyout window. He just isn’t that good. Bruins will need that extra cap space.

Players that left via trade/expansion draft
Kevan Miller:

I guessed that the Bruins will protect Chara (NMC), Krug, and Colin Miller. That leaves Miller as the odd man out, and I think a number 4 defenseman who is dependable in his own zone would be attractive to Vegas.

Ryan Spooner:

Spooner hasn’t shown that he can really hack it at 5v5, and his powerplay scoring was down this year as well. I think he has quite a bit of value as a trade asset. I traded his rights to Anaheim for Montour and a 2nd round pick in 2018. The hardest thing to do as an armchair GM is make a balanced trade, but I think this works for both teams.

Players signed re-signed/acquired from free agency

David Pastrnak:

Pastrnak’s agent is allegedly looking for a long-term deal similar to the Monahan contract. He had 70 points this year, so my best guess is 6 million AAV for 6 years. This takes Pastrnak to UFA and locks him up for his prime years. Works for both sides.

Tim Schaller:

Schaller is cheap, plays good defense, and can step into the top 6 for a game in case of an injury and not look too out of place. I signed him to a deal that was a tiny raise. 950k AAV for the New Hampshire boy.

Noel Acciari:

Acciari will be a fixture on the fourth line for the foreseeable future. He’s had a little bit of a scoring touch in Providence (and roughly 500 goals taken away by video review this year), so expect him to get a couple more next year. Acciari is also very cheap: 950k AAV.

Justin Williams:

The Bruins consider themselves cup contenders in this world. Williams gives them considerable depth on the right wing. I gave him a contract for 3 years totalling 12 million dollars. An AAV of 4 million is not difficult to get rid of. They could buy out the last year of his contract or retain salary in a trade if they were desperate to get rid of him.

Brandon Montour:

Montour came from the Ducks in the Spooner deal. Very promising AHLer. Shoots a ton for a defenseman. The league is trending towards guys like this. Probably would be the 7th guy before McQuaid gets hurt fifteen minutes into the season.

This is what the salary structure looks like going forward:

bruinsgm3

 

I should talk about Matt Beleskey. He had a terrible year. There were a few things that contributed to his down year: a knee injury, different expectations in a checking role, lack of puck luck, and just not playing good enough. His trade value has tanked. I doubt he’s worth as much on the market as he is to the Bruins if he rebounds. Worst case scenario, the Bruins can retain salary at the trade deadline. Best case, he’s back to being a 35-40 point guy. Moving him would expose the lack of depth at left wing as well. Beleskey is a great second liner if he plays like he did in 2015-16.

I think the biggest problem with this lineup is the lack of defensemen Cassidy will trust to kill penalties. One of Colin Miller or Krug will have to step up and take over that role. Miller would probably surprise. He’s better than people think at boxing out players in front of the net.

I have Nash centering the third line. I think he’s a good bottom 6 forward who can contribute by scoring the occasional goal. Khudobin has also been buried in Providence to allow Subban or McIntyre to take the backup role. Otherwise, the lines probably look familiar to anyone who watches the Bruins.

I believe the Bruins team I’ve built is a legitimate playoff team, and could possibly contend for the cup. It hinges on a few things: McAvoy continuing to play like he did during the playoffs, decent goaltending, and some puck luck from the bottom 6. It goes without saying that Bergeron, Marchand, Krug and Pastrnak need to be healthy for most of the year.

 

 

I used the armchair GM tool on cap friendly to put this together. My twitter (where i talk about the NHL, boston sports and Twin Peaks) is @jeffmac95

On Claude Julien

It would be disingenuous to call Claude Julien losing his job polarizing. For all intents and purposes, Bruins fans, players [Marchand], coaches from around the league [Babcock], journalists and bloggers have condemned the move. There is a vocal minority that have been calling for his head for the better part of a decade, and not without some justification. A devastating upset at the hands of Carolina; blowing a lead 3-0 series lead to Philadelphia, which was capped off by blowing a 3-0 lead in game 7; being beaten by two inferior teams in 2012 and 2014, the latter after winning the presidents trophy; and finally, missing the playoffs in two straight seasons are some of the unforgivable sins of Claude Julien. Of course, he also brought the Bruins to relevancy again for the better part of a decade, delivering some of the best regular season and playoff hockey the city had seen since the 1970s. A free agent wasteland, a perennial mediocre team, a burgeoning joke of a franchise was turned around by a combination of two massive signings [Savard, Chara] and, a little less than a year later, by the arrival of Julien. Most can look past his failures and see how successful he was in Boston. So could the front office, for a time.

The NHL is cutthroat. Even a single season delivering less than expected of you is enough to lose your job. By these standards, its not surprising Julien was let go; only disappointing. Even when results are out of the control of coaches, they receive the credit and the blame. If one thinks that the cup win and the other trip to the Stanley Cup Final were a product of the personnel handed to him, rather than his coaching, its only intellectually honest to recognize that you must say the same of his failures. A coach can only do so much, night to night. Julien provided a system for the players to work in that produced great shot differentials and, most years, a strong goal differential. He gave them a chance to win. This year, his backup goaltenders did not return the favour. For the last two months, neither did his starting goalies. Julien was also victim of one of the lowest shooting percentages in the league. Maybe some of that was on the system, or shooting talent, but nobody could reasonably expect them to be this bad. That’s not to say the roster wasn’t talented enough, either. Some of the biggest weapons Julien had were shooting worse than their career percentages; Krug, Bergeron, Marchand, Beleskey, and Backes are not a lack of talent, by any stretch of imagination.

We’re left with a question of who to blame. Julien, the players and the front office- because of their poor drafting and questionable at best personnel moves- all share some of that blame. But the main culprit in Julien’s fate was simply luck. That same luck was beginning to turn: the Bruins were scoring more goals at the very end of Julien’s tenure. Unfortunately, it perfectly coincided with a downturn in goaltending. It covered up the fact that their results were beginning to normalize. Even the goaltending results were semi-luck driven. Even if the backups were truly bad, they couldn’t possibly be as bad as their results suggested, much the same as the Bruins goal scoring. There is no room for luck in business. Owners demand answers that are more than the numbers will regress towards the mean, even if it is fundamentally true. In the business world, and even in the general sense, people are uncomfortable with attributing events to random variance. The news will attribute statistically insignificant swings in the stock market to unrelated events, people will convince themselves that the money they made was a result of anything other than the circumstances they were born into, and coaches will get fired because not enough pucks bounced their way.

Now Bruins fans are left wondering what happens next. If you believe some of the more dramatic personalities, firing Julien is the equivalent of Hector putting on the armor of Achilles: ultimately dooming himself and the city of Troy. Maybe there is no escaping fate now. Maybe the Bruins are destined to begin their slide into mediocrity, if they’re not already there, starting this very minute. Maybe, but probably not. The farm system is looking to be the strongest it has been in decades. And in the short term, maybe the luck turns for the new coach, Cassidy. A coach can’t do much more than provide his players with a chance to win every night, which Julien did. Firing him might not signal the end of the Bruins, but it does represent another misstep by the Bruins front office. That front office will soon realise the meaning of death by a thousand cuts. One thing Bruins fans can be sure of is that wherever Julien ends up, success is soon to follow.