Nearly three months have passed since March 10, the day the Boston Bruins played their last game before the National Hockey League halted play due to the coronavirus pandemic. Very few people thought on March 12, when commissioner Gary Bettman suspended action, that Memorial Day would pass before league officials provided some idea of when play might resume.
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The NHL Players Association recently agreed to further negotiations regarding a 24-team playoff scenario that could be used to determine a 2020 Stanley Cup champion. However, the concession came with a caveat: the NHLPA would be open to talks on the format if the league and the union can reach an agreement that would allow play to resume. There are several issues that need to be ironed out before that can happen.
On Tuesday, Bettman announced the details of the most likely return-to-play scenario and at the same time declared the 2019-20 regular season was officially over. If all goes well, the plan would bring players in for an abbreviated training camp as soon as July 1, with games possibly beginning at the end of that month. However, Bettman cautioned against trying to guess official starting dates until more information is known.
While all this has been playing out, Bruins fans have been biding their time soaking up rebroadcasts of the greatest games from past seasons. However, even with no new games and the return-to-play timing still up in the air, a few juicy tidbits of news about the boys in the Spoked-B have emerged. Let’s take a look at the biggest stories to come out of Boston during the shutdown.
1. Will Rask Retire in 2021?
Tuukka Rask, the Bruins’ number one goaltender and a top candidate for the 2019-20 Vezina Trophy when play was halted, dropped a bombshell in an April interview. Rask said there was a possibility he could retire after his contract expires in the summer of 2021 to relieve the strain the professional hockey lifestyle puts on his family.
Of course, this sent analysts and fans scrambling to predict what the Bruins needed to do to prepare for losing Rask. Backup goaltender Jaroslav Halak signed a one-year contract extension during the break, but many believe the team’s young goalie prospects will need to prove themselves in the coming season to secure the vacant spot, or two, on the roster.
However, we may have panicked too soon. In a subsequent media address, Rask seemed less convinced that next year would be his last, saying that he was unsure how many more years he would play.
2. Swayman on Board
Of course, the announcement that Bruins goaltending prospect Jeremy Swayman opted to sign his entry-level contract with the team after the NCAA hockey season was cancelled makes the uncertainty surrounding Rask’s future a bit easier to take.
Swayman played collegiate hockey at the University of Maine and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, which goes to the top NCAA player of the year. He was drafted by the Bruins in the fourth round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. Although Dan Vladar and Kyle Keyser are considered more immediate candidates for a job with the big club, Swayman is expected to make a splash in the Bruins organization.
3. Cehlarik Burning Bridges
As Swayman officially enters the fold, Slovak forward Peter Cehlarik may have played his final game in Boston or with its AHL affiliate in Providence, R.I. He’s ready to move on from the team that drafted him.
Cehlarik has been called up from Providence several times over the past few seasons, for 40 games in all, including a few stints during the 2019-20 campaign. However, those brief auditions to secure a roster spot have been just that – brief. When he was in the lineup, he failed to make an impact and earned very little ice time in return.
The situation came to a head in April when Cehlarik spoke to reporters in his native Slovakia. In the interview, the 2013 draft pick essentially blamed his lack of playing time on Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy; not an ideal move for a player whose one-year deal expires after this season.
4. Krug’s Contract Talks
Going from a player who may be on his way out, we turn to one that most fans hope to see in Boston for many years. Unfortunately, the latest news in the Torey Krug contract extension saga was not promising.
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Krug will be a free agent after this season. As a high-scoring defenseman who is invaluable on the power play, he figures to command a high-priced contract. The problem is, the $8 million or so per year that he could request is likely more than general manager Don Sweeney are willing to dole out.
It doesn’t sound like much progress had been made in contract talks that have been rumored to have been ongoing for months. For his part, Krug understands the uncertainty surrounding the return to play and his role, if he has one, in Boston’s plans.
5. Krejci Not Done Yet
While Rask may still be weighing the pros and cons of continuing his NHL career beyond his current contract, veteran center David Krejci is having no issues whatsoever with that decision. He said he has no plans to retire after his deal runs out at the end of the 2020-21 season.
Of course, whether the Bruins try to hold on to the uber-talented Czech pivot when the time comes remains to be seen. He is a leader in the locker room and one of a handful of Bruins left from the 2011 Stanley Cup championship team.
However, the team has plenty of center talent in the pipeline. If the Bruins elect to re-up Krejci and he chooses not to explore his options on the open market, the team would have an excellent teacher for those prospects with hockey magic still left in his tank.
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Of course, all of this news pales in comparison to the much bigger story unfolding around the world, as well as the question of if and when hockey will be back and, if so, in what form. Still, it was enough for Bruins fans and analysts to have something to talk about around the virtual water cooler. Hockey news is hockey news.
I am a 46-year-old journalist living in the greater Pittsburgh area with my husband and two cats. I am a proud Penn State University alum. Hockey is life. Not much else needs to be said.