As acting general manager of the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers mock expansion draft, I was tasked to make some tough decisions. For some, it may be simple after looking at the Bruins situation on CapFriendly, but I decided to take a creative yet logical approach to select my protected players.
First, I had to choose between a 7-3-1 protection list and an eight skater protection list, and with the amount of star power on the first line and the no-movement clauses (NMC’s), the former option was the only correct choice.
NMC Protections: Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand & Charlie Coyle
All three of these players have NMC’s on their respective contracts, which means they must be protected under the expansion rules. Even if they didn’t have the automatic protections, they would be no-brain picks. Bergeron and Marchand are two of the best players in the entire league. Both play excellent defense while contributing mountains on the offensive side of the ice. Whether it be at even strength or on the powerplay, you’ll find them contributing in a multitude of ways. They’re two parts of one of the best lines in the NHL.
While he isn’t on the same pedestal as Bergeron and Marchand, Coyle is still an excellent and consistent depth contributor. After being traded from the Minnesota Wild, he has appeared to get some pep in his step and take on the role that Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy gave to him. Although it was a down year in terms of point production in 2020-21 for the Massachusetts native, he has shown the ability to score at higher levels. Shooting at 7.6% on the year, 2.9% below his career average, will ultimately bring your numbers down. It’s exactly what happened.
Other Forwards: David Pastrnak, Craig Smith, Trent Frederic, and Nick Ritchie
What more is there to say about Pastrnak that hasn’t already been said? He is one of the most charismatic players in hockey, and he’s got the skill to back it up. Had he not been injured to begin the season, he could have been in contention for the Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals in the season. He hit the 20-goal landmark and was a point per game by the end, which is still impressive. It also didn’t help that he shot below his career average, just like Coyle did. In fact, it was the same percentage as well at 2.9%. It sure wasn’t his best year, but we all know what the Czech forward can do when he has the time to prepare for the season. He’s the final piece of the coveted top line, and at just 25-years-old he’s got a lot more in the tank.
Smith was a commendable free agent signing by the Bruins front office last offseason. After choosing not to stay and re-sign with the Nashville Predators, he found a home in Boston, and it helped him gain some recognition on the national scale. He put up a solid 32 points in 54 games and found excellent chemistry with longtime Bruins forward David Krejci and the newly acquired Taylor Hall. His tenacity and willingness to chase and fight for pucks is almost unrivaled league-wide and something that all of Nashville appreciated. He brought it to Boston, and it earned him some top minutes with excellent players.
Frederic was a fun player to watch throughout the season. He gained a lot of his publicity from chirping New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K. Subban about his workout videos. He’s not going to wow anyone with gaudy point totals, but the kid has heart. The 23-year-old played 42 games this season and scored five points, four of them coming as goals. Three of them, surprisingly, were game-winners. Fans all around Beantown took a liking to the kid for his heart and willingness to stand up for his teammates. He was a competent defensive player as well, and he definitely wasn’t a liability on the ice. He earned himself a protection slot.
Ritchie is a bruising presence that made himself known this season after a rather negative start with the Bruins. He scored a total of 26 points, with 15 of them being goals, but at the beginning of the season, he scored 15 points in 21 games, including 8 goals. He hit people but was also in the right place at the right time to put pucks in the net. At 5v5, he had a 52.85 expected goals for percentage (xGF%), which is what you’re looking for from a player with his role. Boston fans and media really took a liking to him, and it’s no wonder why. He was extremely effective on the Bruins powerplay, and he started to trail off statistically because he couldn’t score on the man advantage. He showed what he could do at the beginning of the season, and with a full year, he would have had a career-high in points.
Defenseman: Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, and Matt Grzelyck
McAvoy is an incredible defenseman. He may not put up an incredible amount of points or score a ton of highlight-reel goals, but his two-way play is some of the best in the entire NHL. To be doing the things he does at just 23-years-old is almost unheard of in the league today. He’s a top 10 defenseman at the very least, and some (including myself) would argue that he’s among the top five in the league and maybe even in the top three. He built off of his previous stellar season in 2020-21 with 30 points in 51 games and some excellent analytics to go with that. His hand-eye coordination with his stick and ability to clog lanes on odd-man rushes is excellent, and the deeper numbers recognized it quickly. There isn’t much this young superstar can’t do.
Carlo is the resident stay-at-home defenseman for the Bruins, and he’s excellent at his job. He will not wow you with many plays on either end, but his impact is certainly noticeable. Over the last three seasons (2018-21), he has the second-highest expected even-strength defense (xEVD) among all Bruins players per Evolving-Hockey. He’s only behind McAvoy in that sample. 2020-21 was a bit of a wash due to a small sample of 27 games, but he has proven to be one of the best at his role. He’s 6-foot-5 and 227 pounds, which makes for a perfect defense-first defenseman. He’s not afraid to be physical and force players off the puck along the boards using both his stick and body. Not many people can stop him from carrying out a specific task due to his frame and gritty nature.
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Finally, we have Matt Grzelyck. He only played 37 games in the 2020-21 season but managed to score a fair amount of points in that short time. He had 20, which included five goals. He had the highest xGF% at 5v5 per Evolving-Hockey among all Bruins defensemen at 61.6%, which is ridiculously above average. He helped create a ton of offense from the back end, and the numbers on both the scoresheet and analytics show that. He’s relatively short for his position, but that has not stopped him from making a big impact and shooting up the ranks. He’s going to be entering his prime soon at 27-years-old, and we could see a larger jump in production if he’s given ample ice time both at even strength and on the powerplay.
Goalie: Daniel Vladar
Vladar has only played in five regular-season NHL games and one playoff game in his career, but it’s to be expected. Goaltenders rarely develop into their best form at the age of 23. They’re the most volatile position in the sport and unpredictable most, if not all, of the time. Outside of his last game in the regular season, where he allowed eight, yes, eight goals against the Washington Capitals, he had a .922 save percentage (SV%). The one game was extremely uncharacteristic and one of the worst that the Bruins as a team played over the course of 2020-21. I’m not going to hold it against him. He’s shown signs of potential and could be a capable NHL starter if the cards fall correctly.
Notable Free Agents
Taylor Hall, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, Jaroslav Halak, Mike Reilly, Sean Kuraly, Greg McKegg, Jarred Tinordi
Matt Filipe, Oskar Steen, Jack Studnicka, Jakub Lauko, Róbert Lantoši, Curtis Hall, Jesper Frödén, Jack Ahcan, Urho Vaakanainen, Victor Berglund, Nick Wolff, Brady Lyle, Jeremy Swayman, Kyle Keyser
The big-name that you might be looking for is Jake DeBrusk. The young forward has fallen out of favor with many Bruins fans, and it’s no secret that his play has declined over the last couple of seasons. In 2020-21 he scored a measly 14 points in 41 games, which is unacceptable for a player of his caliber. He even knew it and recognized his problems in his post-season presser. Of course, it was hard for him off the ice, too, as he missed time with both an upper-body injury and Covid-19. However, he got demoted in the lineup because of it, which took a toll on him.
The one player that took over his role was Ritchie, who I decided to protect. Not only did he take over his spot in the everyday lineup, but he took his protection slot as well. Most of the players I selected were no-brainers. It all came down to one slot, and that was between Debrusk and Ritchie. So as not to make the Kraken’s life easier, I decided to move him to another team. I only got one offer, and it was from the Montreal Canadiens. It was hard to settle for trading him in the division, but it had to be done. Personally, I viewed it as a situation to gain value out of him instead of losing him for nothing. The final trade came out as:
2021 third-round pick (from Chicago)
2022 second-round pick.
Considering the Bruins’ pipeline is less than optimal, DeBrusk was steadily losing value; I thought it was best to move him for two fairly early draft picks. Considering the 2022 and 2023 draft classes, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if one of the two players chosen came out better than the asset I moved out of.
There is always a chance that DeBrusk bounces back, and it’s a calculated risk not to protect him, given his skill. However, the fan attitude towards him and the demotions in the lineup signal that Boston might not be the place where he can succeed. Therefore, moving him was the best plan of attack.
Final Verdict from Kraken Management
The esteemed armchair Kraken general manager Tony Wolak had an interesting choice to make. There were some solid options to choose from, but with DeBrusk into the wind, it lowered the quality of players. The goal was to make his life harder while making mine easier, and I did just that. Here were his options:
Notable Names Left Exposed
Chris Wagner, Curtis Lazar, Jeremy Lauzon, John Moore, Jakub Zboril, Karson Kuhlman, Zach Senyshyn
Ultimately, he chose the 24-year-old defenseman Lauzon. The 2015 second-round pick scored eight points in 41 games but showed signs of being a solid top-four defenseman. He played with a few injuries, which hindered him from being at peak shape. However, when he was fully healthy, he was one of the Bruins’ best defensemen. He’s still extremely young, and with the Kraken, he will see elevated time on ice. He could be relied upon to produce more offense than he did in Boston while also playing a strong defensive game. His role definitely wouldn’t be as fluid as it was in 2020-21. Overall, I hate to see a player like Lauzon go, but it’s an excellent opportunity for him to become an even greater player.
Jeff is a consistent source for Predators content here at The Hockey Writers. He enjoys watching all sorts of hockey from juniors to the pros, and playing hockey for his high school and local teams in Nashville. He’s a big proponent of hockey analytics, and you’ll often see him using lots of statistics and data to back up his main talking points. You can find his work here, or check out his contributions on his own Substack, or at Last Word on Hockey and On the Forecheck. Lastly, you can listen to him on the Youth Movement Podcast presented by On the Forecheck or the Triple Shift Podcast. For any inquiries about interviews or questions about statistics, analytics, or just general hockey opinions you can message his twitter, @jjmid04.