Despite uncertainty, Sean Kuraly facing big season

Here we are in the month of December and we still don’t know when the next NHL season is going to start.
It appears now to be a foregone conclusion that the Jan. 1 target start date, which seemed unlikely even before the coronavirus surge and contentious CBA renegotiation attempts by the league, is out the window. The best case scenario seems like a mid-January/early February start, with a schedule featuring as few as 48 games a distinct possibility.
One would think that this level of uncertainty is not the best situation for a player like Sean Kuraly, who is scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency for the first time next summer. It’s tough to put your best foot forward when the earth is constantly shifting beneath you.
But the 27-year-old Kuraly, who is far more important to the Bruins than just his usual fourth line assignation, is trying not to overthink what the current situation means for him in what could be the most critical season of his career.
“You could fool yourself into thinking ‘Oh man, this is going to be great for me’ or ‘This is going to suck for me.’ It just is. I don’t really know what to say. It’s just the way it is,” said Kuraly by phone on Tuesday. “You can think about it all day long and try to find or pattern or reason or rhyme that it would help me or hurt me with a smaller body of work this year, but I just think it’s just the way it is. If you can’t adapt. … It’s just like it was in the bubble with no fans. If you can’t get the same fire you had when there’s 18,000 people, somebody else will and you’re going to get left behind. So I think it’s the same thought process this year. You adapt and try to make the best of it.”
Kuraly is at home in Columbus, Ohio, working out and trying to dodge the coronavirus, which last month infected several Blue Jackets. Kuraly is skating at a different facility with some other NHL and college players in town after taking approximately a month off to heal the groin injury that kept him out of the last three games of the playoff series against Tampa Bay.
While he doesn’t know exactly how a shortened season will affect his bargaining power, Kuraly knows full well this is a big season for him, whenever it starts.
“I try to go into every year believing it’s a big year. But I think about it. It’s the last year of my contract,” said Kuraly, in the last season of a three-year deal with $1.275 annually. “For me, if I’m not playing like it’s the last year of my contract every year, I’m not doing my team or myself any justice, so I don’t know if the mindset or the training has been any different. That would be a discredit to the other years I’ve played, if I came in with a different mindset. You have to come in in the best position to help your team win. But it is a huge year. I’m looking to improve, and if I’m not looking to do that, I’m not doing myself any good, I’m not doing my team any good. So, yeah, its a big year. A really big year.”
While he’s made his bones mostly as a fourth line center, he was moved around quite a bit toward the end of the season, seeing time on the left wing on the fourth, third and even the second line. Wherever he’s pegged to play this year, there will be some change.
The B’s biggest departure in the offseason has been that of Torey Krug and, like other teammates, Kuraly said that loss is a tough part of the business. But another departure will affect Kuraly even more directly. Joakim Nordstrom, a regular linemate, has moved on, signing with the Calgary Flames, which could open the door for a Trent Frederic to possibly create a different kind of line.
“Over the past couple of years, it was a treat to play with Nordy. As you guys could see from watching, you could tell what a good teammate and person that Nordy is, so it’s going to stink not having him around,” said Kuraly. “Just watching in the playoffs the last couple of games, you just appreciate what he brings even more so. I just wish him the best. It’s tough saying goodbye to friends. We know that’s the way it goes. He’s just someone you really loved to play with on a line and you want to have him on your team. That part of if it stinks. But some of the young players, they need a spot to try and squeak in. That’s what I did and it’s the way the business works. So, yeah, you have to be ready to do the best with whatever comes at you and you let the higher powers make the decisions of who they want and where, see what they decide and try to make the most of it.”
Aside from having to adjust his workouts that were designed to have him in peak condition for a Jan. 1 start, Kuraly also has to determine when the best time would be to return to Boston. It’s not as simple as just hopping on a plane and getting back here for Day One of camp.
While protocols can change on a daily basis, he’s under the impression that as of right now, he would have to quarantine for eight days and have three negative tests to participate in team activities, provided he drove.
“I’m trying to be smart about it. If you have to do an eight-day quarantine, I personally don’t want to do it right before camp. I don’t want to put myself in that situation. So if that means not being home for Christmas in Ohio then that’s what it means and that’s fine,” he said.
There have been reports that many players have been angered by the league’s reported request to, in essence, renegotiate aspects of the CBA only months after signing it. But Kuraly said he and the players just want to play. While each passing day without an agreement adds to the uncertainty, he’s keeping an optimistic outlook. And if there was any anger bubbling up inside of him, Kuraly — conceding he’s not in the “trenches” of the discussions — did a good job of staying diplomatic about how he and his NHLPA brethren feel.
“I don’t know if it’s anger, I think it’s two sides who really want to figure it out. We’re eager to get this figured out. I think that’s a better way to put it,” said Kuraly. “We want a resolution, the owners want a resolution and I think we’ll find some common ground and push it forward in what’s a tough time for the whole world. I think we’ll find it in ourselves to do just that.”

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