The CWHL’s offseason is steadily moving along and the Boston Blades have re-signed only one of its three players whose two-year contracts have expired.
Forward Megan Myers re-signed with the Boston franchise in early May. Myers was the highest-scoring player on the Blades with four goals and three assists over 17 games and will be welcomed back to the team, but two of the linchpins and best players on the Blades have yet to ink an updated contract.
The first and perhaps most essential re-sign for the Blades must be its captain and star defender, Tara Watchorn.
Watchorn is an essential part of the Blades defensive corps, though she rarely plays only defense with this iteration of the Blades. Instead, Watchorn regularly served as a second center on the ice, running the blue line and simultaneously creating as many as or more offensive opportunities than her forward teammates.
Watchorn came in tied with two others for third-most goals in a season. She also posted the third-most points over the course of the season; Watchorn scored two goals and earned four assists over 22 games. Her low numbers say as much about the caliber of opponents she faced as it does the points production of her team.
An Olympic athlete under Team Canada – the Blades’ only Olympic player – Watchorn was a key part of Boston’s defense, rarely missing a game and regularly taking the most shifts out of anyone on defense. Despite her skill on the back end, the difficulty the Blades experienced due to lack of depth meant Watchorn’s teammates were not always up to the task of preventing an onslaught of shots; consequently she earned one of the lowest +/- percentages on the team at -45.
Her +/- is a badge of honor rather than a negative, though. It shows her team’s faith in her as captain and her extraordinarily difficult assignments. Watchorn was regularly matched against other teams’ top players and her long reach and tenacity routinely made their job harder.
Should Watchorn return, that will keep much of the Blades’ leadership core intact, retaining high-quality players that could lure other high-caliber players to the Boston roster. Should Watchorn choose not to return to the Blades, her absence would be felt throughout the team, not only on but also off the ice.
Starting netminder Genevieve Lacasse is another player the Blades can’t afford to lose. Lacasse played nearly every game last season; her numbers are astounding. Frequently, she was the only thing preventing multi-digit losses against stacked teams such as the Montreal Canadiennes and the Calgary Inferno (both of whom went on to battle for the Clarkson Cup in the Finals).
Lacasse played 1345:33 minutes in net for Boston last season, faced 1,023 shots on net – an average of 44.5 shots per game – and posted a .903 save percentage. While there were other netminders in the CWHL with higher save percentages at the end of the season, there is no one who had a more challenging assignment.
Lacasse allowed only 109 goals over the 23 games she played. Although her team won only one game with her in net (they won only one game, period) she was widely recognized as one of the top players on the team, if not the best outright.
Lacasse spent the season focusing on changing her athletic style of goaltending into something more conservative, aiming for a spot on the 2018 Olympic team in Pyeongchang. She was left off the short list at 2016 IIHF Women’s World Championships in Kamloops, B.C., but may very well be back on the roster in time for the Four Nations Cup in the fall of 2016.
While losing Watchorn would be detrimental to both defense and offense, losing Lacasse would be an enormous blow to the Blades. Her play kept the Blades in the running for a number of games and allowed them the opportunity to stage various comebacks over the course of the season.
Although the team was unsuccessful this season, with one year under its belt the next season may find the Blades better-prepared for the teams it will face. That, however, hangs on the re-signing of high-caliber players such as Lacasse and Watchorn.