The Boston Bruins season ended much sooner than anybody in Boston would have liked. Because of this, their attention was forced to turn from a Stanley Cup run to the offseason, including the Expansion Draft, the Entry Draft and the free agency period.
The first of these events will be the Expansion Draft. The Bruins are going to have to figure out which players they’re going to protect by July 17 with the Seattle Kraken set to select players on July 21.
It’s hard to project exactly what the Bruins are going to do for this protection list, especially considering the fact that David Krejci, Taylor Hall and Tuukka Rask are uncertainties heading into the 2021-22 season.
Veteran Unrestricted Free Agents Want to Remain Bruins
Krejci could remain with the Bruins on a short-term deal, he could sign elsewhere despite how unlikely it seems, or he could return to the Czech Republic to close out his career.
“I love Boston. This is my home. I just don’t see myself playing anywhere else,” Krejci said. “But at the same time, we’ll see what happens.”
Rask, who is going to spend time recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip, won’t be ready to play until January or February of 2022 anyway. If and when he returns to hockey, though, it will be with the Bruins.
“Like I said before, I’m not going to play for anyone else than the Bruins,” said Rask. “This is our home. We have three kids, the kids enjoy it here, they have friends in school, we have friends. At this point in my life and career, I don’t see any reason to go anywhere else, especially with the health I’m looking at now, my recovery time of five or six months. Hopefully it works out that I recover well, and we can talk about contracts when the time’s right for that.”
Even Hall, who has only been in Boston for a short stint in the grand scheme of things, feels like the Bruins are the right team for him.
“I see a fit, and hopefully they feel the same,” Hall said to the media. “We’ll let the dust settle and everything, I’m sure they have a lot going on, and some other guys who’ve been here longer than me that they have to worry about, but hopefully we can make something work. That’s obviously my goal and hopefully we can make that happen.”
If all three players are indeed projected to remain Bruins, then the wise thing to do for the Bruins would be to sign them after the Expansion Draft. What this would do is allow the Bruins to effectively protect them from the Kraken without actually using up any of their protection spots.
While all three have made it clear that they’d like to remain in Boston, there are no certainties that things will go quite as smoothly when push comes to shove. Rask has made it clear he isn’t going to play elsewhere, bur Krejci and Hall could still explore their options in free agency. If the Bruins can find a way to sign them after the Expansion Draft but before free agency opens on July 28, then that would be the best-case scenario. For the players, though, at least listening to other offers could be enticing.
Still, for the sake of discussion, we can assume these players will not sign contracts until after the Expansion Draft, leaving the Bruins free to protect the remaining players on their roster as they see fit.
Bruins Protection List Could Go Many Ways
When the Bruins submit their protection list to the Kraken, they’ll be forced to protect Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Charlie Coyle. While they were likely to protect all three regardless (with Bergeron and Marchand being locks), that still only leaves four more forward spots, three defense spots and one goaltender spot.
For simplicity, we can assume that the Bruins will be protecting Daniel Vladar, leaving Callum Booth, Jaroslav Halak and Rask unprotected. Halak seems unlikely to return to the Bruins, even with their need for a veteran netminder in the crease to help carry the load until Rask is healthy. He’ll be a pending unrestricted free agent this offseason anyway and it feels unlikely that Seattle would draft him regardless.
They’ll also be locking up Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk and likely Brandon Carlo on defense.
If those defenders do end up being the players protected by the Bruins, then that would leave Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril, Mike Reilly, Connor Clifton, John Moore, Kevan Miller, Jarred Tinordi and Steven Kampfer unprotected. Reilly, Tinordi, Kampfer and Miller are all set to be unrestricted free agents, however, meaning that only Lauzon, Zboril and Clifton should be at risk of being selected when all is said and done.
This leaves four forward spots left for the Bruins to protect. Logically, the Bruins will have to protect Pastrnak and Craig Smith, leaving just two forward spots remaining. The most sensible players who should be in consideration for those two spots have to be Jake DeBrusk, Trent Frederic, Nick Ritchie, Ondrej Kase, Zach Senyshyn and Karson Kuhlman. It’s unlikely that the Bruins will protect Senyshyn or Kuhlman before they protect any of the other four players in that list, leaving two spots for just four players.
Protecting Kase, regardless of how fond the team may be of him, would be irresponsible at this point given his injury history. That leaves two spots for DeBrusk, Frederic and Ritchie.
It would be nearly impossible to figure out exactly which of these players they’ll ultimately protect, but Frederic and Ritchie feel like they would be the safest given recency bias. Still, DeBrusk’s entire future shouldn’t be judged entirely on his 2020-21 season and 2021 playoff performance. It’s a tough call, but DeBrusk probably still has more value in the eyes of the NHL than Ritchie, which means that leaving Ritchie unprotected may be the smarter play.
For those keeping score, that means the Bruins would be leaving Ritchie, Senyshyn, Kase, Kuhlman, Lauzon, Zboril and Clifton available for the Kraken.
That’s a pretty good list of players to be left unprotected, but that’s unfortunately the cost of business with the NHL expanding the league. For Seattle, the most enticing names on this list would have to be Ritchie, Lauzon and Clifton with the latter’s stock elevating significantly during the playoffs.
The Bruins could also look to make a deal with the Kraken to entice them to take another player while getting additional assets out of it in the end. It’s unclear who they value among those in the discussion to be left unprotected, though, and this includes DeBrusk and Frederic. For that reason, it would be a fruitless endeavor to even try and figure out what a deal would look like in this regard.
Still, the Bruins have to at least consider it if they feel like a player they really like could be taken by the Kraken.
The Bruins have just under a month to figure out all of these Expansion Draft decisions. It’s a tough spot to be in, but it’s also why the management team is in the position they’re in. If the job was easy, then anybody would be doing it and the pay would be significantly less.
This offseason will be the most critical one for the Bruins in recent memory and it all starts on July 17.
Brandon Share-Cohen has covered the NHL and various professional sports for six years. Working with The Hockey Writers, Brandon works extensively on covering the Boston Bruins in addition to his role as the News Team Lead.