Bruins GM Sweeney’s moves for former Ducks now seem shrewder

Matt Kalman
March 27, 2020 - 12:46 pm

We’re looking for silver linings in the NHL shutdown.

While the Bruins and the rest of the league, the rest of professional sports, wait out the passing of the Coronavirus pandemic, there’s a lot to think about.

First off, general manager Don Sweeney’s decision to not mortgage the Bruins’ future to add a rental at the NHL trade deadline is looking prescient. Imagine being the Arizona Coyotes (Taylor Hall) or Vancouver Canucks (Tyler Toffoli), who paid a steep price for players that are only signed through the end of the 2019-20 season. The likelihood that those players have played their last regular season games in those teams’ sweaters increases by the day, and even if there’s a Stanley Cup playoffs both teams would be out of the picture based on points and the NHL sticking to its usual format.

By no means should we credit Sweeney for foreseeing there’d be a pandemic that would shut down life as we know it, nor are we yet completely sold that Ondrej Kase was the answer to the Bruins’ problems (even if the Anaheim Ducks took most of David Backes’ contract off Boston’s hands for this season and next). But the decision to stick to Bruins’ long-held philosophy of serving both their needs in the present and the future has now paid off because even if the NHL doesn’t return until the 2020-21 season, the Bruins at least have a couple few holes in their lineup with Kase and Nick Ritchie signed beyond this season. …

…. Which leads to Kase and Ritchie’s situations. The time off could actually turn out to help Kase, 24, who was banged up and out of action a month before he made his Bruins debut. He’s been banged up in the past and the healing time away from hockey might be more valuable to him than the time he would’ve been using to get up to speed with new linemates (especially if he was still playing through any ailments). If there are playoffs, they’ll start with everyone at point zero in terms of preparation and that could also help Kase play up to his potential.

Ritchie, however, might be in the opposite boat. Staying in shape is difficult under these circumstances, particularly for bigger men. Plus he was just starting to find his footing with the Bruins and attempting to endear himself to the Bruins’ faithful, who are wont to give a player the benefit of the doubt in times of struggle as long as he shows toughness.

It took him just five games to have his first Bruins scrap (with Florida’s Riley Stillman), during which he showed why some opponents might had been shying away from him during his two years without a fighting major.

“I never really go looking for fights or anything like that,” Ritchie told a week before the NHL shut down. “Just if it comes, it comes. There’s not as much fighting in the league anymore, so it just doesn’t happen as much.”

Although he’d only been a Bruins player a couple weeks, Ritchie had already learned what Boston fans appreciate most.

“Yeah, it’s definitely one of those cities that embraces that physical play and I’m sure they enjoyed that. It’s always have to have the home crowd behind (you),” he said. “Obviously it’s something different. I think in other markets, you don’t have the same effect. But I guess you’re in such a hockey city, they love that kind of blue-collar play and hopefully we’ll see more of that coming up.”

 If the NHL comes back with some sort of playoffs this summer, Ritchie could be an important piece of the Bruins establishing their physical presence. And the Bruins have the 24-year-old under contract to try to keep the peace (or hopefully cause a ruckus) and there's a chance they won't have to pursue a similar sort of player next season if he can get back on track after the layoff.

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