Anderson: Bruins shouldn't walk away from Ryan Spooner

Ty Anderson
July 06, 2017 - 8:40 am

Kim Klement/USA Today Sports

It’s nothing new, but things between the Bruins and Ryan Spooner seem complicated.

It started at the end of the season press conference, when the Bruins offered up an arcane explanation when asked about Spooner’s status and future in Boston after a season in which he bounced from wing to center to wing and to the press box. He was a somewhat healthy scratch in the postseason… but was also fighting through some sort of injury. For what it’s worth on that front, that’s not a lie either, as Spooner was icing his arm after the club’s Game 3 loss at TD Garden. The Bruins seemed to like what he did for them, too, with 11 goals and 39 points… but they also wanted a lot more. Spooner seemed to have a jolt of life in his game when Bruce Cassidy took for Claude Julien...but it didn’t fully translate as Cassidy’s tenure grew from February to March and to the postseason. They mentioned their future options with him… but also mentioned that he has options on his side, too. Spooner was arbitration-eligible this summer.

Spooner, by the way, filed for arbitration on Wednesday.

Without a deal made between the two parties between then and now, Spooner and the Bruins will likely go ahead with the aforementioned arbitration case. From there, the Bruins will have two choices: pay Spooner what the arbitrator rules he’s worth for the upcoming season or walk away from that, making him an unrestricted free agent.

And the Bruins, despite all of Spooner’s warts -- many of which were caused or exposed by the team’s unexplainably poor managing of this asset, both for their own club’s success and then on the trade market, with his value crushed into dust as they tried to morph him into something he was not -- would be wise to go for the former.

In a year expected to come with so much change, particularly on the wings, the Bruins are in no position to cut bait with Spooner just yet. Nor should they, not when you look at what he’s been able to do for their team over the years, anyway.

Since breaking in as a full-time NHLer prior to the start of the 2015 season, the 5-foot-10 Spooner has recorded 24 goals and 88 points in 158 games, with those 88 points ranking as the sixth-most among Bruins skaters over that span, and 59th among all NHL players with at least 158 games played. In a role often designed for either stellar defensive play or opportunistic offensive skill, Spooner has lived up to the latter.

“Ryan Spooner can certainly play third line center. He has, and done well for two years,” Sweeney noted. “He’s good on the power play, an important part of our power play.”

It’s his impact on the power play that’s been a true gift for the Bruins. Consider this: In two seasons with Spooner on their power play, the Bruins have ranked seventh in the NHL both in 2015-16 (20.5 percent) and also in 2016-17 (21.7 percent), and with the league’s fourth-best percentage over that two-season stretch. Spooner’s 35 power-play points over that two-year span rank as the 38th-most among NHL forwards, too, and more than talents such as Jeff Carter, Daniel Sedin, and even David Krejci.

Most people scoff at the idea of power-play specialists, but for a team that ranked in the bottom-half of the league in five-on-five goals for a year ago (only the Flames and Sens scored fewer five-on-five goals among 2017 playoff teams than the Black and Gold), maintaining the pieces of a strong power play seems like a must for a Bruins team that has not yet added a high-profile scorer through a trade or free agency.

But, at the same time, the Bruins believe they have options elsewhere.

“I think [Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson] is going to come in and vie for that spot, I think Riley Nash would like to continue to play center – we have a lot of – I think David Backes can move back to mid-ice depending on where some of the other wing prospects are,” Sweeney said of his third line. “I think we have a lot of flexibility.”

Sweeney is not wrong. The B’s have choices. But here are the counterpoints to those players over Spooner: Forsbacka Karlsson, while a college standout, may not be ready for full-time center duty, even after an offseason of training both in Boston and Sweden. You don’t want Backes playing a full 82 games at center if your plan still involves him being a productive playoff performer (which he was for the B’s in their first-round series loss). Nash, meanwhile, will be at his absolute best in a fourth-line role where his strong defensive-zone game can shine and where offense is considered a bonus.

Oh, and also: Spooner has, you know, done this before. In his lone full year where he wasn’t toyed with from wing to center and back, No. 51 put up 13 goals and 49 points in 80 games played. And he was playing hurt for the second half of the season.

There’s also something to be said for having depth down the middle, especially depth you can afford, which the Bruins will be able to in the case of Spooner, even as the club prepares to commit $6 million per year to David Pastrnak beginning this fall.

“I do not think you can have too many centers in the NHL,” Sweeney said. “I think centers can play wing. I don’t really know too many wingers that can play center.”

Spooner, however, as last season should have taught you, is an example of a center that cannot play the wing. Which is exactly why he should get another shot -- and in his natural position -- before the Bruins simply walk from him for legitimately nothing.

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