Stop me if you'd heard this one before. Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk's future in Boston is in question.
DeBrusk's time with the Bruins has been tumultuous. He was selected with the Bruins' fourteenth overall pick in the Bruins' infamously disastrous 2015 draft class and broke out of camp with the team at 20 years old, scoring a goal in his first NHL game. In his rookie 2017-2018 season, DeBrusk posted 43 points and received Calder Trophy Votes. He put up 11 points during the Bruins run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2019 at 22 years old, and seemed poised to be a key piece of Boston's future.
During former head coach Bruce Cassidy's time behind the Boston bench, he and DeBrusk frequently found themselves at odds. Cassidy was "really harsh, on young players especially" in the Bruins' dressing room, and no one probably felt this more than DeBrusk.
A Boston trade for Taylor Hall in April 2021 created a logjam at left wing ahead of DeBrusk, as he became gridlocked behind the former Hart Trophy winner and star Brad Marchand on the depth chart. With no top six minutes up for grabs at left wing and a dysfunctional player-coach dynamic, discontent led DeBrusk to request a trade from the team in late November 2021.
After a first round playoff loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in 2022, the Bruins fired Cassidy. Not long after, it was reported that DeBrusk had rescinded his trade request, and Boston general manager Don Sweeney confirmed so at the 2022 NHL Entry Draft.
Based on the timeline, it wasn't too difficult to assume that Cassidy was a large part of why DeBrusk wanted out. After parting ways, both Cassidy and DeBrusk were asked about their relationship and if that impacted the forward's trade request. Their non-answers did little to quell that narrative.
With Cassidy out of the picture, DeBrusk enjoyed a renaissance under new head coach Jim Montgomery last season, posting a career high in goals and points. The winger netted 27 goals, and would have easily reached the 30-goal plateau if he had not missed significant time with a broken fibula suffered during the Winter Classic. Montgomery also slid DeBrusk over to right wing, which helped invigorate his production as well.
In 26 games this season, DeBrusk's production is a far cry from last year's career year. He has been limited to four goals and seven assists, while Montgomery has shuffled lines constantly both strategically and out of necessity due to injuries (Pavel Zacha's placement on IR yesterday doesn't help Montgomery's musical chairs either). In his standout 2022-23 season, DeBrusk, Marchand, and center Patrice Bergeron played 409 minutes and 37 seconds of 5-on-5 together. This season, DeBrusk hasn't spent more than 61 minutes on a consistent line. It is hard not to draw a line of correlation between his production and a consistent line combination.
DeBrusk wasn't shy about crediting his 2022-23 season to his linemates, bluntly remarking that Marchand and Bergeron "pretty much redeemed my career".
But now in 2023, the Bruins have arrived at a crossroads. DeBrusk is struggling to produce and will hit the free agency as an unrestricted free agent this upcoming offseason. He should garner interest on the trade market as a three-time 25-goal scorer, but his contract status and play this season suggests that Boston will likely get pennies on the dollar compared to if they have shipped him out after last season.
DeBrusk has a cap hit of $4 million, and if the Bruins swing a trade for an impact player for their playoff push, his expiring contract status and cap hit paint him as a prime candidate to be offloaded.
For the time being, it seems like the Bruins would be best served to tread water with DeBrusk. The winger seems to have found a home (at least temporarily) with Matthew Poitras and Danton Heinen, and Bruins' fans hope that a consistent line can provide a spark. The Bruins appear destined for another postseason appearance, and with the trade deadline still three months away, the decision doesn't need to made imminently. Sooner rather than later though, Don Sweeney and Cam Neely are going to have a make a tough decision on a consistently inconsistent player.
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