History tells us Ondrej Kase has scored 20 goals in the NHL once, was on pace for a better season before being sidetracked last season, and had just seven goals in 49 games for the Anaheim Ducks this season.
History also tells us in their never-ending quest to challenge for the Stanley Cup in the present but also preserve their future, the Bruins aren’t likely to part with a rich package for picks and/or prospects to land a bigger fish before the NHL trade deadline on Monday now that they’ve traded their 2020 first-round pick.
Without being able to predict the future, we have to assume right now that after they traded that pick, prospect Axel Andersson and 75 percent of David Backes’ cap hit to the Ducks, the Bruins might not be able to stick in the Chris Kreider or Kyla Palmieri sweepstakes should they develop over the next few days.
So that puts all the pressure on Kase to produce, and with people describing him as a havoc creator on and a speedster on the ice, there’s certainly potential for the 24-year-old to get healthy (he’s been out with Feb. 7 with “flu-like symptoms”) and find his form of two seasons ago.
General manager Don Sweeney and coach Bruce Cassidy have already projected Kase to start out on David Krejci’s right side. With more than two months left in the season, Cassidy will have plenty of chances to try out different combinations, chances he was denied last season when Marcus Johansson got hurt and wasn’t able to take turns on different lines.
Kase is signed for one more year after this at a comfortable salary-cap hit of $2.6 million, meaning he’ll have more time in a Boston sweater to prove he’s the reliable goal-scorer the Bruins need to make sure postseason scoring slumps are few and far between.
Johansson helped that cause last season, and like Kase he came to Boston with a concussion history that came into play almost right off the bat was he was blown up by Carolina’s Micheal Ferland a week after the trade. Johansson recovered in time to contribute for Boston in the postseason and by the end of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final you could make the case he was playing the best two-way hockey of any Boston forward.
Johansson, though, came with a track record – two seasons of more than 20 goals, clutch goals over the course of nearly 70 playoffs games. Kase doesn’t arrive with the same resume. His ledger shows just two goals in 13 playoff games. At 6 feet, 190 pounds, he doesn’t add the size Boston’s lacked for a couple seasons. Sweeney earned GM of the Year honors after his trades for Coyle and Marcus Johansson, neither of which cost Boston a first-round pick, helped the Bruins play until mid-June. The trade of Kase is a much bigger risk.
Considering it was always suspected the only way the Bruins would rid themselves of any portion of Backes’ $6 million cap hit was to also part with a first-rounder, parlaying those two assets into a player that could emerge as a Conn Smythe winner and a part of the next core of the Bruins was well worth that risk. And with Backes’ cap hit gone, the Bruins have the space to get restricted free agents Jake DeBrusk, Anders Bjork, Karson Kuhlman and Matt Grzelcyk signed this summer. They now have flexibility to work out a fair extension with potential unrestricted free agent Torey Krug.
But when Sweeney says “we’re in it to win” he’s not talking about 2021 (or at least he shouldn’t be). He’s talking about 2020, and the Bruins aren’t a sure thing to be better than the rest of the teams in the East with Kase they way they would’ve been had they added someone with a more prolific past. They still need to be bigger and more rugged on the back end and possibly up front.
We know what Kase has been and what he could be, but we also have seen players of Kase’s ilk left in the shoulder of the postseason highway before. As long as he’s gone all-in to add a bit of an unknown in Kase, Sweeney should still add a more proven commodity to sure up his roster even if it means mortgaging a little more of the future. And with Bruins’ core aging, this is no time to put their odds for success all on one young forward’s shoulders.