A few stray Bruins-centric thoughts on a strange, hockeyless Thanksgiving week …
▪ Rough end for Johnny Boychuk, who retired Wednesday at age 36. The Islanders said that after “numerous and extensive medical exams,” the well-liked ex-Bruins defenseman could not continue playing. Boychuk was cut on the left eyelid last March 3 by the skate of Montreal’s Artturi Lehkonen. He reportedly needed 90 stitches.
Boychuk, who also was cut on the neck by the skate of Toronto’s Mitch Marner two seasons ago, said in June he was fully recovered and looking forward to more years in the league. He returned to play three games in the playoffs, the final games of his 13-year career.
It should be easy for Lou Lamoriello to find the silver lining here. The veteran Islanders general manager has yet to sign star restricted free agent Mathew Barzal, and Boychuk, commanding $6 million in salary cap space the next two years, was looking like a buyout candidate. Lamoriello now has more than $9 million to use on the blazing-fast Barzal, one of the game’s brightest young stars.
Boychuk was fun to watch for different reasons. He never met a one-time slapper he didn’t like. He had a playful nature, whether he was passing the puck with ex-teammate Torey Krug in warm-ups before a game last January, or picking up a false tooth that fell out of David Krejci’s mouth and cheerfully delivering it to a Bruins trainer.
“I love Johnny,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy remarked after that November 2018 game. “But that’s weird.”
He played with the exuberance of someone who spent 372 games (five full seasons) in the AHL before making the leap. Very Shawn Thornton-like, in that way.
The Bruins didn’t want to trade him on the eve of the 2014-15 season. Boychuk was coming off his best season at age 30: 5 goals and 23 points, and some outstanding defensive metrics. His Corsi For percentage was 10th in the league among heavy-use defensemen. His 3.2 WAR rating, as calculated by Evolving Wild, was close to what Zdeno Chara registered (3.4) in his 2009 Norris Trophy season.
Not saying Johnny Rocket was Johnny Norris, but he was clearly doing something right.
Then-Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli, stuck with Jarome Iginla’s carryover bonuses among other financial constraints, had to sacrifice a top-four defenseman for a pair of picks, weakening a 117-point Presidents’ Trophy winner. The Bruins missed the playoffs that year and the next.
Chiarelli’s successor, Don Sweeney, used the second-rounder (37th overall) that year on Brandon Carlo. He spent the other second (44th in 2016) on Ryan Lindgren, who was part of the Rick Nash trade. Still think that, if healthy, Nash would have solved a lot of the Bruins’ issues in the spring of 2018.
▪ Another new face at right wing, Craig Smith, won’t fix everything that ails this group of Bruins forwards. But he will get more shots to the net, an area that had Sweeney, Cassidy, and the descendants of the Gallery Gods hollering “shooooot!” the last few years.
According to Natural Stat Trick data crunched by @JFreshHockey, the 31-year-old ex-Nashville winger had just 10 percent of his shots blocked, which ranked second among 307 forwards who produced at least 100 shot attempts. Smith put 70 percent of his shot attempts on goal, the fifth-best rate in the league.
That might help balance things with some of his new teammates.
Krejci and Anders Bjork, for example, missed the net last year about as often as they hit it. Krejci put 47 percent of his shot attempts on goal (third-worst among that group of forwards), while Bjork landed 49 percent (eighth-worst).
Of those 307 forwards, Sean Kuraly and Ondrej Kase ranked at the bottom in expected goals per unblocked shot attempt. Taking low-percentage shots works for some (Nathan MacKinnon and Artemi Panarin also rank in the bottom 12) but not for Kuraly and Kase, who combined for 13 goals last year (Kase’s 7 came with Anaheim).
▪ While we’re talking stats: @JFreshHockey noted that Carlo ranked 10th-worst among defensemen in expected goals divided by shots on goal. That can be OK, if a defenseman is looking for a rebound, trying to get a shot through, looking for a tip or to relieve pressure.
Carlo also got shots through at one of the best rates among D-men: 23 percent of his shot attempts were blocked, which ranked fifth in the league (for context: Vegas’s Nic Hague, who scored his first NHL goal on a seeing-eye point shot against the Bruins last year, saw 44 percent of his attempts blocked).
On the opening goal of the ill-fated Tampa Bay playoff series, Carlo had his head up at the point. He had the touch on a half-slapper to find Charlie Coyle’s stick for an aerial tip. Against Vegas in late January, Krejci scored the winner after Carlo shifted away from pressure at the line and threw a wrister on net.
If he gets a bit quicker with his hands and feet, his numbers will rise. He’s already doing good things. Interested to see how Carlo handles any added puck-moving responsibility after the loss of Krug, his partner for multiple years.
▪ Jake DeBrusk was relieved to get it over with. DeBrusk, who inked a two-year, $7.35 million extension Monday, is the gregarious son of a former NHLer (Louie DeBrusk) who now works as a commentator on Sportsnet in Canada. DeBrusk readily engages in chatter about the league (he refers to it as “The Soup”) and said it was tough to escape contract talk in hockey-mad Edmonton.
If DeBrusk moves into the 30-35-goal neighborhood, the Bruins will help him put down roots come 2022.