The NHL trade deadline has come and gone. There were moves galore, with each team in the Eastern Conference making multiple moves to fortify their rosters. One of the early moves Monday was an announcement from Boston that the Bruins and winger Jake DeBrusk had agreed to a two-year contract extension. Puzzling? To some. Others pegged this as a negotiating tactic for the Bruins to lock in DeBrusk’s cap hit for a future suitor to know what they would be paying for if they acquired the winger instead of having an impending contract negotiation this summer. Instead, the Bruins held on to DeBrusk, making their big move to bring in Hampus Lindholm from Anaheim and squeezing in the paperwork to trade for Josh Brown from Ottawa.
As the hours ticked by on Monday and the deadline wrapped up with DeBrusk still in Boston, opinions began to filter out. What a mistake this was not trading him. Why would the Bruins keep a player who has voiced his desire to move on from the team? Why wasn’t he sent out for an older winger? All questions people are entitled to ask, but questions I am not interested in. Instead, let’s focus on the benefit this new contract for DeBrusk has for both the team and player and the impact this deal could have through the rest of the season.
Benefits for the Bruins
The Bruins are one of the hottest teams in the league right now. For the years of concern around depth scoring, Boston is currently rolling three different lines out that can carry the workload on any given night, and DeBrusk has played a key role in the scoring. Since Jan. 1, he has 18 points in 33 games. Now I know that is not a point per game, but when you look at his season stats, 26 points in 58 games, this current streak is a promising trend. Even as a natural left winger, he has slid in seamlessly on the right side of the Bruins’ top line, flanking Patrice Bergeron and manning the opposite wing from Brad Marchand.
There is a case to be made that if you plug any competent player in this role next to players the caliber of Marchand and Bergeron, I’ll concede that it does help to have these two guys helping carry the load. But for as good as both players are, Bergeron and Marchand have each missed games while DeBrusk has been on their line — Marchand for a suspension, and Bergeron due to injury — and during these absences, DeBrusk has still produced.
The Bruins also benefit from keeping DeBrusk because of the lineup flexibility he creates. He’s allowed head coach Bruce Cassidy and the Bruins staff to take David Pastrnak off the first line to create a fearsome second line with Taylor Hall and Erik Haula. Nobody is claiming Pastrnak needed to be moved, but the Bruins for years had been a one-line team whose success fully depended on the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line carrying the brunt of the offense.
This year’s Bruins have a new look. Now the Marchand-Bergeron-DeBrusk line can be trotted out as a first-line, with opposing coaches having to decide if they deploy their top checking line against this group or the second line of Hall-Haula-Pastrnak. As if that isn’t enough of a headache for the rest of the league, the Bruins have a revitalized third line centered by Charlie Coyle with Trent Frederic and Craig Smith on the wings. This bruising line has become yet another wave of offense for teams to attempt to shut down, a proposal that has appeared easier said than done.
Finally for the Bs, they lock in a winger who has shown flashes of high-end potential at a reasonable cap hit. Four million dollars is below the qualifying offer DeBrusk would have been eligible for after the season, and at his current production rate, it’d appear to be a bargain. Knowing what his salary will be next year also helps the Bruins as they project out their roster for the upcoming season and debate free agent targets. Instead of the unknown, the Bruins brass can now build out their forecasts with a concrete number. They can identify free agent or trade targets knowing how these new players’ cap hit will fit into the existing team.
Benefits for DeBrusk
When asked, DeBrusk’s agent confirmed that even though the contract extension was signed, DeBrusk’s trade request remains active. He continues to suit up for the Bruins and now knows he will remain in Boston the rest of this season, but his desire to leave has not changed. That is fine! Not great, ideally every player would want to be on the team pulling towards a championship run, but that is not the case. If DeBrusk keeps up this level of play, though, he will continue to find himself in the Bruins’ top-six, skating alongside the likes of Marchand and Bergeron. By playing alongside these Boston legends, DeBrusk has an opportunity to increase his value and attract even more suitors should he leave the Bruins.
From a player’s perspective, is there much more anyone could ask for? DeBrusk’s linemates are two of the top 200-foot forwards in the league. Just by being on the ice with them, his numbers will improve. For those analytically inclined readers, the Marchand-Bergeron-DeBrusk line is statistically at or near the top in nearly all categories for the Bruins, according to MoneyPuck.
The first stat up is expected goals. DeBrusk’s current line has an expected goal percentage of 71.8 percent. They are expected to score 2.96 goals per 60 minutes of play, and they are expected to allow 1.16 goals per 60. Not bad. Next stat: shot attempts per 60. The Marchand-Bergeron-DeBrusk trifecta is accounting for 65.1 percent of the shots while they are on the ice. They average 78.75 shots per 60 while only allowing 42.28 shots per 60. When a line essentially outshoots their opponents 2 to 1, that is a recipe for success. When it’s the top line of a team doing that against what should, at least in theory, be the other team’s top line or top shut-down line, that is an indication of dominance.
On top of the regular season stat line that DeBrusk will have the opportunity to pad, the Bruins are firmly locked into an Eastern Conference playoff position. This means he’ll have the opportunity to add more to his value with a strong showing in the postseason. Sure, DeBrusk has only tallied four points each of the last two postseasons, but those were in bottom-six roles. Now playing more minutes with better players, he will have the opportunity to re-establish the playoff performer status he earned in his first two trips to the postseason (cue the Game 7 goal against Toronto). Teams value playoff experience and playoff performers. DeBrusk certainly has experience; five straight trips to the playoffs erase any doubt of that. The performance is now what needs to follow. There have been two good years followed by two bad years. This year will break the tie and give an indication of what DeBrusk is as a playoff performer.
Both the Bruins and DeBrusk Can Benefit
Love it or hate it, Jake DeBrusk is a Bruin, at least until the end of the 2021-22 season. We can stop with the rumors of where he will end up. For the Bruins to contend for a Stanley Cup, he’ll need to play an important role. For all the fanfare, the Bruins were able to extend him and treat him as their deadline addition to the forward group. They are gambling that the 63-37-74 line will continue to perform, and there are plenty of reasons to believe this gamble will pay off.
I have made my bias known in the past. I am a DeBrusk fan, but holding on to him is also the smart move, even with his trade request still in place. Rather than trying to make a deal in-season when some teams are weaponizing their cap space (Seattle and Arizona, I see you), and other teams are punting until next season, the Bruins can revisit the trade market in the offseason when every club can consider themselves contenders. As more teams can bid for DeBrusk’s services, Sweeney and the Bruins can ask for a stronger package in return.
If a package can’t be found, who’s to say DeBrusk can’t find a place in the Bruins lineup? He has had his disagreements with Cassidy and griped about his playing time, but the players have never seemed to turn on him, and he has shown he can perform with the spotlight on him as has been the case all season following his trade request. If there is any cure for this relationship, a Stanley Cup victory would likely be as good of medicine as any.
Vince Reilly covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. Vince graduated from Grinnell College with a Bachelors in History and Political Science and earned a Masters in Sports Administration from Belmont University. He has worked in the Predators Front Office on Analytics and Operations, with Major League Baseball in Replay, and now with Tufts University as a Director of Hockey Analytics. Vince can always be found with a coffee in hand and he promises his sarcastic tone will always shine through his work.