After the Boston Bruins missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade back in 2015, it sparked a retooling period. This resulted in the Bruins trading away integral parts of their core, which included Dougie Hamilton and fan favorite, Milan Lucic. The decision to part ways with these two players was met with a lot of criticism. They had missed the playoffs by only two points and registered 96 points. Yet, management felt that it was time to make some significant changes.
Trading away Lucic left a massive hole in the Bruins’ top-six forward group, so they were aggressive that free agency period. That is why they signed highly coveted forward Matt Beleskey to a five-year, $19 million contract. This contract was considered to be one of the best from that summer. He had just come off a career year with the Anaheim Ducks that saw him play top minutes with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. As a result of this, he managed to score a career-high 22 goals, while registering 32 points.
There were high hopes for him with the club because he fit their gritty style perfectly. Although he was not considered to be as dominant as Lucic, he had made a name for himself around the league for his physicality. This and his goal scoring ability made it seem that he would be part of the Bruins’ lineup for quite some time. Yet, as we fast forward to today, he is no longer a member of the team.
Beleskey’s First Season
Beleskey reached expectations in his first season with the team. He set a new career-best in points with 37 that season and ended up splitting a lot of time between the second-line and third-line. Although he did not score as many goals as he did in Anaheim, he was an effective piece to the core. He did not face much criticism for his play and even quieted the majority of his doubters in the process.
His ability to adapt quickly to Claude Julien’s system is what solidified a spot on the roster for him. Julien has always been known as a defense-first type of coach and that was perfect for his play. Due to this, he was often a key member of the penalty kill. Yet, because of his offensive instincts and size, he was placed on the power-play as well. He was primarily used for his net presence and skill in the dirty areas of the ice. With all said that, it is apparent that he gained the trust of management in his first year and thrived in the process.
Perhaps the only negative of his first season is that the team failed to make the playoffs for the second year in a row. They fell out of contention because of an atrocious finish and a hot streak by the Philadelphia Flyers. As for Beleskey’s season, though, it can deemed successful. He may not have been as offensively productive as Lucic, but he did expand on his season from the year prior. His contributions only helped the team improve and he was not faulted whatsoever for their abysmal finish.
The Beginning of Beleskey’s Downfall
Coming into his second season with Boston, there was a lot to be optimistic about. He already left a great first impression and solidified himself a spot on the Bruins’ third-line. Yet, as the season began, there was a very noticeable change in his production. He was failing to put up significant points and there was immense concern over what to do with him. In his first 24 games that season, he had only two goals and three assists. This quickly showed the start of his offensive decline.
To make matters worse for him, he sustained a major injury on his right knee. This took him away from action for over a month and, from there, he simply would never be the same. Due to his departure from the lineup, the team began to alter their lines. This led to more minutes for younger players like Frank Vatrano — this was the exact moment when Beleskey became expendable.
His awful start and long-term injury made it extremely challenging for him to recapture his spot with the club. He found himself on the fourth-line more often than not and this was detrimental for his offensive game. Upon returning, he would only manage to score one more goal that season. Because of this he lost his spot in the starting lineup and became a healthy scratch.
Beleskey’s Final Season
Although Beleskey had a horrible second year with the team, he was given another chance. He was once again inserted into the Bruins’ top-nine and worked incredibly hard over the off-season. Yet, as the games continued to pass, he was struggling even more and failed to register a single point. He once again became a depth forward and was only used when injuries arose. After failing to leave any significant impression, as well as the rise of rookie forwards Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk, it marked the end of his tenure.
The Bruins finally gave up on him and sent him down to Providence this past December. Once arriving with the AHL affiliate, he still could not muster much offensively. The chances of him ever making it back up to the big club significantly decreased. With his fairly high cap hit already as a factor for the demotion, he needed to light it up down there. Yet, through all of this, he maintained strong optimism and became a positive locker room presence for the youngsters.
Once February hit, the Bruins traded him to the New York Rangers in the Rick Nash trade. This was something that was truly unpredictable because of his cap hit and lack of productivity. Yet, it is important to note that the Rangers are only going to pay 50% of his salary until the contract ends. He likely was added to the trade as a salary dump to help the Rangers acquire more assets for their rebuild. Regardless, this would officially mark the end of the Beleskey Era in Boston.
Beleskey’s Lasting Impact
At the end of the day, the Bruins were extremely fortunate in acquiring Rick Nash for Beleskey’s contract. Although they obviously traded many more pieces with it, the fact that they were able to land a top-six forward is impressive. His value had completely diminished over the past two seasons and rightfully so. He simply is no longer the effective power forward he was back in his days with the Ducks. Nor is it likely he ever will be again.
When looking at him being incorporated into the trade, the only potential negative is that the Bruins have to pay half of his salary. Losing $1.9 million of cap space for a player who is not on the roster is not ideal, but it is better than paying double that for a healthy scratch. They now can use the extra cash from this trade to acquire different players in the future. The short-term Brian Gionta signing can be used as an example of this.
This situation will leave a long-term impact when it comes to their future decisions during free agency. Although the idea of signing a player after a solid season is tempting, the possibility of it backfiring is always present. Although Beleskey did have a very solid season his first year, his two abysmal ones will always outweigh it. This in return should spark the team’s desire to build within the system, rather than go for the expensive and unpredictable off-season acquisitions.