The pitch



Could Jimmy Vesey be a Boston Bruin by week’s end? We’ll know the answer soon enough. (Found this on the Internet somewhere but don’t know who to credit for it)





Harvard captain and unrestricted free agent Jimmy Vesey met with several NHL teams yesterday (Toronto, NY Islanders, New Jersey, Pittsburgh were among those reported) and he’ll meet with more today. The New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks are reportedly on the list and we’ll be able to confirm that a little later.

We’ve heard that the hometown Boston Bruins are going to be the last team to make the case, which is a nice situation to be in, but in itself is no real indicator of where the skilled offensive left wing will end up.

By virtue of the NHL’s CBA, the money every team can offer him is essentially the same, assuming they max out the base salary and performance bonus structure. Per General Fanager, those amounts are:  2 years at a base (max) salary of $925,000, $3.775M AAV ($832,500 salary +$92,500 signing bonus; $2.85M performance bonuses). The 925k is your cap hit this year and those performance bonuses could roll over into next year’s cap hit for the team that signs him if he were to do what Artemi Panarin accomplished in Chicago en route to the 2016 Calder Trophy.

That means it pretty much comes down to the various pitches and the opportunities the teams lay out for Vesey.

Were I the Bruins general manager, I would adopt a “less is more” approach here as it pertains to Vesey. The obvious small peanuts move is to bring a No. 19 Bruins jersey with his name on it to the meeting. Only 2 players have worn those digits in Boston since the 2000-01 season: Joe Thornton and Tyler Seguin. It’s not about why both players left…Vesey is well aware of the history. However, he idolized Thornton as a youngster. It’s an obvious tactic designed to connect to the kid in him and the exclusivity by which the B’s have limited that number over the years carries its own appeal. But no hockey jersey, regardless of the history behind it, is going to close a deal, and whether teams make videos or bring in players to help make their case, all of that is just window dressing. In the end, the GMs will have to walk a fine line between keeping it simple and making a cogent argument that will appeal to the pragmatist in him, and also making an important connection to his personality and values. The Sabres have the advantage here, because they’re the ones who have had about two months to make that connection and also have the benefit of Vesey’s friendship with NHL superstar-in-waiting Jack Eichel.

Boston doesn’t have those advantages but bring a different edge to the table, so for me,  the pitch is relatively simple.

After laying out the obvious opportunities Vesey will have to succeed with the Bruins organization and committing the max dollars like everyone else, selling him on staying home comes down to a relatively direct but earnest message:


You grew up dreaming of this opportunity (to play for the Bruins) and now, you’re in a position to choose where you begin your NHL career. Not everyone has the power of choice, so we respect where you are and what you have done to bring us to this moment together.

Other teams have undoubtedly made convincing arguments for why you should choose them, and you’re facing the most difficult decision of your life thus far. As we finish up the last of your meetings before you decide, we’d like to leave you with this:

Boston offers you one thing no other team can, and that is the certainty that comes with knowing you achieved your childhood dream. Not choosing the Bruins means that you might go through life wondering what it would have been like to play here if you had only made a different decision. Choosing Boston means that regardless of what happens, you will never have questions about what could have been, and we believe you’ll have no regrets that you chose to stay home and join the legacy that your father is also a part of.

It isn’t easy playing in your hometown and dealing with the various pressures that come with high expectations along with the scrutiny and attention you’ll get because of the many accomplishments you bring with you. However, you’ve also demonstrated that you have the maturity to handle those challenges and become every bit the player and person so many believe you will be. We believe in you, and we want you to be a part of the next big revival period of Boston Bruins hockey. You’ve talked to your friends inside the organization and you know that over the past three or four drafts, we’re building the right group of talented and committed players. We want you to be a part of this resurgence.

Your head might tell you that other cities and teams can offer you more reasons to go there and wear different colors than the black and gold, but you also have a chance to listen to your heart as you make your final decision.

We believe your heart is telling you to be a Boston Bruin and we’re prepared to help you realize that dream.

That’s it.

That’s all.

In my experience it really comes down to that, and it’s not about overselling or underselling. It’s about trying to establish a connection and speak to what will ultimately drive the decision. Money and opportunity are important, but they won’t guarantee success or happiness. Talk is cheap, but blood is thicker than water, and following in his dad’s footsteps while playing close to family and friends is a powerful lure.

I believe that all things being equal- Vesey has the desire to play in Boston. His family is here, and his dad comes from humble roots in Charlestown. Injuries prevented him from making the mark he could have at the NHL level, but Jimmy has a chance to do much more at this level, and I suspect that fact is not lost on Jim Vesey, Sr.

I also think that there is a lot of white noise and distractors out there that could be steering young Vesey away from Boston. The talk of the external pressures and distractions that come with being such a high-profile player from the area is real, but in my view- too much is being made of the concerns and what-if’s. There are no doubt several convincing arguments to be made that he’s better off playing elsewhere, but if a decision to reject the chance to play for the Bruins is based on trivial reasons such as being pressed by ticket requests or a fear of being criticized on sports radio and television, then maybe it is for the best that he begin his NHL career elsewhere.

Knowing Jimmy over the years, I believe he wants to embrace a real challenge over an easier path- his success has been fueled by adversity. Staying home does present certain negatives that playing in a place like Newark, N.J. doesn’t, but the reward and payoff should he prove himself to be the player in the NHL that he’s been at Harvard is enormous as a member of the Bruins versus the Devils, Rangers, Sabres or anywhere else. Does he want to stay in Boston enough to accept the identified risk that comes with the spotlight and possible friction that Jimmy Hayes was a source of last season?

That’s a question only Vesey can answer, and after today, we’ll soon find out.


Separate from the above post, going to hop on the soapbox for a bit and share some thoughts and observations on what I’ve been seeing lately, especially on Twitter…

It’s a shame that there is so much hype surrounding Vesey and that invariably, he’s started to get a backlash from people tired of hearing about it and of course- the element of folks out there who are holding against him that he’s leveraging a collectively bargained right. It’s more than a little silly, especially since we’re about giving the people what they want, and in the modern information age, what the people want is almost always an over saturation of  stories and angles. They want to know exactly how it’s all going to end beforehand. We ourselves encourage paralysis by analysis in places like Twitter and internet message boards. So, why is anyone surprised that a player who has scored more than 50 goals and 100 points in the past two NCAA seasons is generating so much attention?

The fact is- NHL teams don’t get an opportunity to sign a player of Vesey’s potential every year, so when someone with his talent and upside comes along, there’s an obvious desire for coverage commensurate with storylines that develop when multiple cities pursue someone on the open market. Jimmy Vesey didn’t create this animal, but he’s required to feed it.

Signing Vesey is not a gamble, either- a gamble is when you leave something to pure chance. He’s given multiple indications that he will be a successful NHL player. No, signing Vesey is taking a risk– teams are accepting that by committing max dollars to him and inserting him into the lineup ahead of others in the pecking order, they might upset the apple cart. You can argue that he’s not worth that risk, and it’s a fair assessment, but it isn’t like he’s a middling player, either. Instead of playing a game of false equivalencies like comparing him to some of the game’s icons (no one with any credibility is doing that, btw) or asserting that signing him means the Bruins (or any other team) are automatically Stanley Cup contenders, why not just settle in and see where this all takes us? Yes, there is a lot of hype around this player, and that’s also the reality we’re living in circa 2016.

Again- it isn’t Vesey’s fault that we live in an age where every single move is scrutinized to the nth degree. If he and his representation refused to answer questions about what they were doing, then people would criticize that and wonder what he was hiding. And let’s be fair and honest about this- Vesey isn’t the only one talking about his situation. Sources within the teams are telling reporters about meeting schedules and how interested their clubs are in his services. That’s not Vesey’s doing, but he’s the one taking the heat for feeding the beast.

Come the weekend, we’ll be glad the saga is over because it really has gone on too long. It’s just unfortunate that some out there simply can’t resist making someone out to be the villain in any story. If anything, Vesey is an example of facing adversity and rejection by being completely passed over in 2011 and turning that into a bidding war unlike any other we have seen surrounding a player who has yet to skate an NHL shift to date.

Right, wrong or indifferent- it will all be over soon and then we can look forward to seeing what all the fuss was about.

The prediction here is that while it may or may not come to the fore right away, Vesey will prove himself to be an NHL asset and fans will eventually get why he was so sought after.

On McAvoy and Lindgren and what they mean for the future of the Bruins D

I’m back from a trip to Canada and the opportunity to watch The Tragically Hip perform live in London, Ontario. More on that later.

I did get to see the televised action of USA games from the national evaluation camp in Plymouth, and the Americans closed out the event with a sound thumping of Team Canada Saturday.

If you’re a Boston Bruins fan and paying attention to the organization’s prospects and player development efforts, you can’t help but come away optimistic for what could be coming, especially at the defense position. One player had a standout, exciting performance that drew raves. The other USA defender was not as visible, but earned good marks for being solid and opportunistic. Both players, drafted in the first and second rounds in Buffalo, are giving Boston fans something to talk about.

The team’s top choice in June had a standout camp from start to finish: one NHL scout texted the Scouting Post after the first day of on-ice sessions on July 30 to say that Charlie McAvoy was the “best player on the ice,” and the 14th overall selection out of Boston University did nothing but reinforce that view as the week went on.

The Long Island native isn’t cut from the mold of steely-eyed killers as you apply them to hockey players (we’re talking Scott Stevens here in terms of the king of steely-eyed killers on the ice), known more as an even-keeled, fun guy to have in the room. He’s a hockey playing surfer, who might have a little more Jeff Spicoli in him than one might think (Aloha, Mr. Hand!) and we don’t mean that in a bad way. However, he backed up his reputation for being all business on the ice by playing an intense, physical, two-way skill game all week. McAvoy put an exclamation point on that with a slobber-knocker of a hit he put on 2015 1st-rounder and Panthers prospect Lawson Crouse, catching the power forward at the USA blue line with his head down and drilling him with a hard but clean hit.

McAvoy is an excellent skater who accelerates quickly in just a few powerful strides that he’s able to generate thanks to a blocky, strong build. He’s not all that tall, but with his wide body and thickness through the torso and lower trunk, McAvoy demonstrated that he’s an A-grade physical player who uses his lower center of gravity to bolster the physical aspect of his game. All of this is all fine and well, because the offensive dimension McAvoy brings to the table is what made him a top-15 selection in the first place.

We’ve knocked him for being at times too aggressive in the way he pushes the pace and gets himself deep into the offensive zone, but pulling back on the reins of said player is easier to do if someone has the natural skill and ability McAvoy does- you can’t coach what he has, and as he matures and refines his game going forward, watch for him to take significant strides offensively. Don’t judge a book by its cover- he might not have a rock-hard physique, but ask Crouse about him, and you can bet he’ll keep his head on a swivel going forward.

One NHL scout had this to say about McAvoy before the draft, and while it might have sounded effusive in its praise then, you can now understand what the veteran talent evaluator was talking about:

“The top defensemen in this draft are hard to separate and McAvoy might end up being the best. He would’ve torn apart the OHL and produced as much as guys like (Mikhail) Sergachev and (Jakob) Chychrun, in my opinion. He’s an NHL athlete and skater; a thick, strong, and powerful kid who has great speed and skating ability. Competitive and passionate about hockey. Can make the first pass and is good offensively off the rush but he’s just average on the PP and lack of height will limit him defensively in the NHL. Doesn’t have Werenski’s size or PP ability from last year.”

If McAvoy can improve his power play skills and production, the sky could be the limit for him.

He’s slated to go back to Boston University for his sophomore season, and it would be surprising to see the Bruins try and sign him now and pull him out of the NCAA (though not impossible, especially after the way he’s performed at Bruins development and the USA evaluation camps). Realistically- he’ll play for the Terriers in 2016-17, but don’t be surprised to see the B’s come calling in the spring and we might even see McAvoy get some NHL games to finish out the year. He’s probably good enough to handle it, but first things first and we’ll see how the season goes.

Here’s a draft weekend video of McAvoy interviewed by Edmonton colleague Tom Gazzolla:

Boston’s other USA defenseman- Ryan Lindgren– didn’t draw the same kind of attention McAvoy did, but the NTDP U18 captain from a season ago stood out to those who watched him and can see how the little things he excels at add up to make a pretty impressive player in his own right.

Like McAvoy, Lindgren isn’t all that tall, and he doesn’t have the same wide build, either. However, he has a knack for lining up guys for kill shots and knowing when to give and take hits to make plays. A competitive little son of a gun, Lindgren earns the respect of coaches for his intensity and how hard he plays. The kicker is his personal discipline; he’s someone who plays right on the edge as a mobile, physical defender who is better than his own end than on offense, but doesn’t cross the line very often and hurt his team with bad penalties.

We got a good, hard look at Lindgren and he plays such a polished, refined defensive game already at age 18. His gap control is excellent and he instinctively understands when to activate at the right times and when to back off. His stick positioning is sound and he’s got real nice skating range and closing ability- this is a guy who is tough to beat wide because he skates so well in all directions, but who can also use his natural speed to jump up into the play and support the rush.

A lot of players talk about being two-way defensemen- Lindgren actually has the skills and head to pull it off.

Factor in that he’s a natural leader who was universally hailed by his teammates and opponents alike as a team captain they would follow anywhere and/or respect as an opponent, and he looks to be a top-four fixture at some point on the left side in Boston when he gets some time in at the University of Minnesota, possibly followed up by a stint in the minors.

NHL Prospects posted this highlight video of Lindgren from a season ago:

It’s hard to resist the urge to start penciling in players like McAvoy and Lindgren into future Boston lineups, but as of right now, rushing the shiny new toys into action is probably not the way the team is looking at things. Lindgren will likely follow a longer timeline to the NHL than McAvoy will, but there is reason for excitement.

That doesn’t help the Bruins in 2016-17, but it also means that the team need not panic and sell the farm to acquire overpriced veteran defenders with a limited return on investment. This pair, when added to some of the other impressive talents like Brandon Carlo, Jakub Zboril, Rob O’Gara, Matt Grzelcyk and Jeremy Lauzon for starters, underscore the optimism and hope for a brighter blue line future.


Zach Senyshyn, who missed Bruins development camp after recovering from mono, got some limited time in with Canada, but didn’t get much of an opportunity to shine. His time will come, and after a 45-goal campaign with the Soo Greyhounds a year ago, he’s still very much in the mix for a spot with Team Canada in the 2017 World Jr. tourney, but he was not at 100 percent. Given the mediocre showing of the rest of the team, especially against Team USA in the finale, you can bet that the coaches will want to see more of what Senyshyn can do in December, not less.

Trent Frederic was also at camp with Team USA and he’s got some interesting potential, even if he’s still raw and isn’t going to bring much in the way of flash. He’s got good size and will do honest gruntwork to gain and maintain possession. He doesn’t have much in the way of high-end skills, however- and that will always be the rub when fans debate his selection at 29th overall. Simply put- there were more talented options on the board where he was chosen, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they will prove to be better players in the long run.

Jeremy Lauzon was also in camp for Canada, and we had limited exposure to him. He’ll likely get lost in the sauce of the excitement surrounding McAvoy for the time being, but watch for Lauzon to be more comfortable and confident at Boston’s main camp in September and he’s primed for another big year of junior hockey before he’ll turn pro and help Providence out if his QMJHL season ends in time to get some AHL work next spring.


Last but not least-

Sincere condolences on the passing of ESPN analyst John Saunders, who passed away at age 61, the network announced yesterday.

He was very clearly a hockey guy, and I always enjoyed his takes and humble persona whenever he was on the air. ESPN is not a hockey network, so he was one of the few talents that brought much-needed knowledge of and passion for the game whenever he had a chance to talk about the NHL or hockey at other levels.

Saunders will be missed and he got much in the way of respect and acknowledgements yesterday by so many who knew and loved him.


Sharks and Penguins for Lord Stanley plus other notes

Well, it isn’t exactly how we drew it up after the San Jose Sharks failed to make the playoffs a year ago, but here they are- for the first time in the careers of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau– the players taken 1st and 2nd overall in 1997- the West Coast apex predators have a chance at winning the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.

For some Bruins fans, it’s shades of Ray Bourque in 2001 all over again. Former Bruins star and captain leaves town and has a chance at winning their only championship, with the Boston NHL club mired in mediocrity. Of course- there’s no real comparison between the sentiment fans had for Bourque and what folks are expressing for Thornton- but it’s kinda similar.

Thornton was a good guy, a heck of a player, but a lousy captain. He wasn’t ready for the responsibility when he was given the ‘C’ in 2002 at age 23. I think he liked the idea of being the team captain, but when it came time to handle the essence of leadership and the sacrifices that come with being a team’s identified leader and the one who has to face the music in good times and bad, Thornton wasn’t mature enough to handle it.

In hindsight, being traded out of Boston was the best thing for him. Playing in California suits Thornton perfectly and it’s interesting to note that he eventually lost the captaincy in San Jose as well. California cool only gets you so far, apparently. GM Doug Wilson obviously made the right choice, as Joe Pavelski has been everything you want from a captain and more. He’s scored the big goals and if the Sharks are going to overcome their 0-1 series deficit, Pavelski will be the guy who leads the charge. He’s a winner. And Thornton is on the verge of earning that moniker for the first real time in his career- it won’t be easy but now is the time for Jumbo Joe to demonstrate the best kind of leadership- setting the example and stepping up.

Being a great captain is different from how someone is measured as a player. That he’s not a top leader is not an indictment of Thornton, because his NHL body of work is Hall of Fame-worthy. However, when it came to anointing him with the mantle of leadership in Boston, it was too much, too soon. And his tenure in San Jose proved that some guys are simply better followers than leaders.

On the flip side, the Pittsburgh Penguins are vying for a fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history, and what would be a second for Sidney Crosby (2009), tying him with franchise icons Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr (1991 and 1992).

After underachieving for much of the year, the Pens pulled an impressive Lazarus act, surging at the most important time possible, and riding the wave of outstanding play from Crosby, Kris Letang, Phil Kessel...(wait, did you say PHIL Kessel?) and rookie goalie Matt Murray.

Big things were expected of the Penguins this year going into the season, so if you had pulled a Rip Van Winkle on the eve of opening night and woke up today, you wouldn’t be all that surprised that Pittsburgh is in the SCF for the first time since they won it all seven years ago. It’s how the Penguins got here that has been so interesting, and it took them a while and a coaching change (hello, Mike Sullivan) to get going, but with a relative unknown in net who’s posting quite a Cinderella story in Murray, they’ve knocked off some good teams to get here.

Flip a coin. A lot of Boston fans are cheering for Thornton, and that’s all fine. Remember- if his team wins it, he will have earned it. He doesn’t deserve to win…no one does.

And as for the pick…draftniks sigh…it’s 29 or 30. What does it matter at this point- where once people thought it might be a lottery selection, Martin Jones dashed those dreams but even choosing at 18 might have netted the team a nice power forward in Max Jones (no relation) or perhaps a later flyer on Julien Gauthier or developmental D in Logan Stanley. No matter…the Sharks have busted those dreams and so you have to figure the pick acquired from San Jose for Jones will be in play come draft weekend. I would be surprised if the Bruins hold onto it if they can flip it for an extra 2nd and perhaps a 3rd (Don Sweeney would likely have to package a pick or prospect) or 4th rounder (typical value for moving out of the end of the 1st). Or, the team might use it as a part of a trade deal to bring back the much-needed NHL help on D. Either way, the Sharks have continued to rub a little salt in the wounds of a lost Boston season.

The 2015-16 hockey season and rollercoaster is just days from being over, but the endless offseason is only getting started.


Here’s a guy to keep an eye on, btw: Tri-City Storm forward and USHL Clark Cup champion and playoff MVP Wade Allison. He’s a big, heavy-on-the-puck right wing with size and skill.

He’s shot up the various draft boards and rankings after an outstanding second half of the season, and the Western Michigan University recruit’s stock is surging at the right time.

I’d say his first couple of steps are a little clunky, but he’s a powerful skater in the straight line who does effective work in the high danger areas and along the walls. His tremendous playoff scoring run keyed the Storm all the way to a sweep of Dubuque in the Clark Cup final.

Don’t sleep on this kid (and forget about getting him in the 3rd round if you’re thinking he’s going to fall), who seems to have it all including an impressive personality to boot.

NHL’s final four: ‘Bolts, Blues draw 1st blood and other musings

It’s May, which not only means we’re into the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs semifinal round, but it is also my busiest time of year with the annual pre-NHL draft heavy lifting. Between my obligations to Red Line Report and New England Hockey Journal, haven’t had much time for the blog of late, but things will slow down considerably in the next week-10 days.

One bit of cool news- Red Line will be the NHL Network’s official content provider for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, so we’re excited to bring you, the fans some unique insights on many of the players as they get drafted. Kyle Woodlief and I will be working on profiles of players, so I encourage you to tune into NHLN’s draft broadcasts on Friday night and Saturday.

Now, as for the NHL postseason…

I went against my gut and picked against the St. Louis Blues in one of my playoff brackets and regretting that. They’re going to win the Stanley Cup, and I should have known better. There are no flaws on that team with top-to-bottom roster depth. They have elite skill from Vladimir Tarasenko, plus quality veterans like David Backes and Alex Steen. Their blue line is set with a great 1-2 punch of Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk, plus huge and talented newcomer Colton Parayko looks like he’ll step in to fill the void when Shattenkirk likely becomes a cap casualty. In net, Brian Elliott is playing the best hockey of his career, and Jake Allen is the future of that club. Full marks to GM Doug Armstrong and his staff for putting a contender together…he really wanted to add Loui Eriksson to the mix but couldn’t make the cap numbers work enough to pursue the kind of trade Boston wanted, but make no mistake- this roster is good enough to go all the way, and they will.

Here’s a pet peeve of mine, and I’m sure to get some disagreement on it, but here goes nonetheless…

I keep seeing people out there on Twitter and elsewhere talking about how Joe Thornton “deserves” a Stanley Cup. Let me be clear here:

No. He. Doesn’t!

No one “deserves” anything in the NHL- you have to earn it. I felt the same way when Ray Bourque was playing for the Colorado Avalanche. I was absolutely happy when Bourque skated off into the sunset with his only NHL championship, but if he “deserved” to go out that way, he and his team earned that right after 16 wins and a come-from-behind effort against the Devils. Life is hard and often unfair- good people can work for something and not achieve it but I refuse to buy into the theory that just by playing a long and successful career, you “deserve” a championship. Championships are special and winning them not only takes a lot of skill and hard work, but a good amount of luck, too.

If Thornton and (Patrick Marleau) his Sharks win the Cup this year, so be it- it will have been earned. But pardon me for not jumping on the sentimentality train here…I don’t think the Sharks are good enough. They’ve never been able to win the big game and get over the hump. Wanting someone to win and them being good enough to do so are two different things. We can be happy for him if he succeeds, but you’ll never, ever see me pulling for a player to go all the way because he “deserves” it. I’ll pull for someone because I want him to win or because I think his team is good enough to be a champion.

It’s that simple.

(But while I’m on the subject of the Sharks- how about that Joe Pavelski, eh? Talk about a winner! Joe Playoffski is at it again and he looks like a man on mission, so if there is one guy who aims to make a difference vs the Blues in the Western Conference final, it’s him. (And for the record- snagging Pavelski late in the storied 2003 draft is one of Sharks chief scout and good guy Tim Burke’s finest moments.)

Hat’s off to the Tampa Bay Lightning.  They took Game 1 against Pittsburgh of the Eastern Conference final after losing yet another key player.

That team has weathered injuries that would cripple just about anyone else, but like the Blues, the ‘Bolts are built to win it all after falling to the Chicago Blackhawks a year ago in the SCF final series.

Who would have thought that without Steven Stamkos, they would be where they are- up 1-0 over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference final? With three more wins, Tampa has a chance to do what they could’t last year but the hits keep coming- Ben Bishop left Game 1 injured in an eerie parallel to last year’s playoffs. Depending on how much time Bishop misses, I wouldn’t bet against his backup, Andrei Vasilevskiy…the 19th overall pick in 2012 could be like another upstart young goalie turning heads in this year’s postseason (more on him later). He came in a year ago and performed well for Bishop, and he could do it again.

This club is talented, deep and experienced- don’t sleep on them.

I’ll admit it- I’m glad to see Mike Sullivan doing well with Pittsburgh. The Marshfield native and former BU star turned NHLer with multiple teams including the Bruins was a good coach for the B’s who was a victim of bad timing and a lack of vision by Boston ownership coming out of the lockout. As you may recall, he was behind the bench for Patrice Bergeron’s rookie season, recognizing the talent and character of Boston’s current franchise face even at 18.

Team owner Jeremy Jacobs allegedly issued instructions to then-GM Mike O’Connell not to sign any of the team’s unrestricted free agents entering the lockout season, anticipating the market to be flooded with veteran players when certain teams would have to become cap compliant. That meant that key guys like Mike Knuble, Brian Rolston and Michael Nylander were allowed to walk with no talent coming in that summer. Contracts tolling for the non-hockey year of 2004-05 resulted in the loss of 31-year-old D Sergei Gonchar to free agency, which cost them Shaone Morrisonn, their 2004 1st-round pick (Jeff Schultz) and 2004 2nd-rounder (Mikhail Yunkov) for what a rental player. Shades of Al Iafrate for Joe Juneau all over again- maybe one day the B’s will be able to fleece the Capitals like that.

Mr. Jacobs apparently didn’t see the salary rollback coming, so the deep talent pool never came to fruition and the B’s were caught holding the bag, missing out on prime FA targets in 2005. Sullivan paid the price, as the uninspired Bruins crashed in 2005-06, setting the stage for the major house cleaning that brought on the Peter Chiarelli era.

The Penguins were underachievers for much of the year until Sullivan stepped in and the players began firing on all cylinders. It’s similar to Dan Bylsma’s arrival in 2009. What’s most interesting is watching Matt Murray seize the starting job in net after Marc-Andre Fleury was lost to a concussion. Fleury’s healthy again, but watching from the bench.

Sullivan is a smart guy who was a grinding forward- he understands the game and quite frankly- I’m trying to figure out what took so long for him to get another NHL head coaching job. Looks like it was worth the wait.

It sure is looking like the Bruins will be able to draft a pretty good player at 14, assuming they hold onto the pick. It is entirely possible that in order for GM Don Sweeney to acquire the kind of young, cost-controlled NHL defenseman who can help stabilize and rebuild the Boston blue line, he’ll have to give that selection up. I can just sense the wailing and gnashing of teeth if that happens.

You can’t have it both ways, though- fans who want an upgrade on defense must be willing to sacrifice prime assets. San Jose beating Nashville in the second round took what would have been the 18th overall pick and dropped it to anywhere from 27-30 depending on how much further they go. That hurts, but the value of that pick as a trade chip just went down considerably.

The way the Bruins will look at it is this: if they can get a proven commodity at a position of critical need, they’ll give up that top-15 selection, which may or may not ever pan out and roll the dice with San Jose’s pick at the bottom of the 1st round. After a 10-selection 2015 draft, stockpiling draft choices is less important right now than hitting on the picks they do have. In the end, it all comes back to the old Sam Pollock-ism: Whichever team gets the best player, wins the trade. Calgary won when Boston dealt them Dougie Hamilton, with a wait-and-see caveat attached to Zach Senyshyn, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Jeremy Lauzon. Giving up a chance at what should be a nice player at 14 is the price you pay in the grand scheme of things to swallow hard and do what is right for the hockey club in order to make it better now.

So, while draftniks stand to be disappointed, I’d be surprised as it stands on May 16 if the Bruins end up making both selections in Buffalo. However, it takes two to tango for any trade to happen, and Sweeney has already shown that if he can’t get the right value, he’s willing to do the unpopular thing if he feels it’s best for his team.

I guess we shall see.





Providence Bruins swept, rough seas for organization

I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to jump into the mix on the state of the Boston Bruins organization after the season ended two weeks ago, with the team throwing out a complete and total dud at home against the Ottawa Senators in a do-or-die final game.

I was away at Grand Forks, N.D. watching the World Under-18 Hockey Championship (which ends today in a gold medal game that features neither USA nor Canada, winners of the gold medal going all the way back to 2007), so I wasn’t paying strict attention to the pair of season-ending press conferences the Bruins leadership held. The accountability reviews happened Thursday, April 14 with GM Don Sweeney and Claude Julien, and then about a week later with team president Cam Neely and owners Jeremy Jacobs and his son, Charles Jacobs, who is the Jacobs family’s most visible influence on the club as the Chief Executive Officer of the Delaware North company’s Boston holdings (ie- the Bruins, TD Garden and all the various mechanisms related to those entities).

I was holding off because there was no shortage of coverage analyzing the pressers and what was and wasn’t said by the various stakeholders, and I wanted to see what the Providence Bruins would do in the AHL playoffs after a strong season given that club’s bumbling start out of the gate. Alas, the P-Bruins dropped game 3 in double OT last night, swept out of the playoffs unceremoniously by the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in three consecutive overtime wins, each time Providence failing to get that fortuitous play that the Penguins managed in all three contests.

So, here we are: the Boston Bruins are done. The Providence Bruins are done. If you’re a B’s fan, the 2015-16 season ended the way it began- with deep pessimism about the team’s direction and ability to achieve the perennial high standards that everyone had come to expect since capturing the 2011 Stanley Cup championship in memorable fashion and then reaching the final series just two seasons later.

The recurring theme I keep going back to is this: it isn’t that the Bruins failed to reach the playoffs two seasons in a row in 2015 and 2016, but it’s how they’ve lost out- with a pair of consecutive spring swoons that just about everyone save the most ardent of optimists could see coming. It certainly wasn’t for a lack of trying on the team’s part, and the cynics will likely even debate that point, but I think by and large- modern sports fandom and by that, I mean people who cheer for successful teams- has become an entitled lot. They simply come to expect enduring excellence, and why not? Aiming high should be lauded not derided, and when your team summits one of the toughest challenges (if not *the* most difficult) in capturing the Stanley Cup, there is an expectation that follows. Unfortunately, as Boston fans have learned over the past three seasons in the wake of the Bruins coming up short against the NHL’s modern dynasty in the Chicago Blackhawks, savvy management coupled with a long-term vision and sprinkled with some good old fashioned luck, is critical to the kind of sustained success that the Blackhawks are enjoying, with three championships since 2010.

How did we get here? Where did it all go wrong?

Just two years ago, the Bruins were President’s Trophy winners and had just blitzed the Detroit Red Wings in the opening round, preparing to face their historical nemesis- the Montreal Canadiens. Although it was the Habs, spirits were high and Boston fans, some of them, were already making their plans for an Eastern Conference Final matchup. When it all came crashing down, it turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg. And so, two non-playoff finishes later, the team is looking at the ruins of a pair of close-but-not-quite regular seasons and an exodus of players either a part of those two Stanley Cup runs (Milan Lucic, Johnny Boychuk, Tyler Seguin) or those who were expected to carry the torch well into the next decade (Dougie Hamilton, Reilly Smith) and there isn’t much to show for it. To add to the concern, the B’s have several higher-dollar contracts invested in aging veterans with injury challenges (Zdeno CharaDennis Seidenberg, David Krejci) and three years after trading Seguin in a blockbuster deal, the Bruins have very little to show for one of the NHL’s biggest stars in 2016.

All of this leads naturally to the sharp knives coming out and in a results-oriented business like pro sports, when you don’t win, the recriminations will follow. That’s just life. But, the Bruins didn’t help themselves, and I’ll attempt to explain why in the coming passages- just bear with me.

The B’s were slow to react to another spring of disappointment, and that added to the friction and frustration in Boston. None of the team’s top brass came out publicly in the wake of the sinking of the S.S. Bruins 2016 as is the tradition when players pack up their things after a season and head home, talking to the media on their way out in addition to their internal exit interviews.

In this case, it was a mistake by whomever made the call- Neely, Sweeney…are we sure who is making those kinds of decisions at 100 Legends Way these days? But whoever decided to go into complete radio silence/blackout mode misjudged the fan angst this time. A statement, even a simple one, such as “As an organization, we thank our fans for their support in what has been a disappointing season for all of us. In the coming days, we intend to talk about what happened, why it happened and what we plan to accomplish not only in 2016-17, but in the years beyond as we strive to give our city a team worthy of the Boston Bruins name,” or something to that effect would have gone a long way. It would not have erased the negativity, but at the same time would have at least demonstrated a modicum of accountability. After all, the top brass knew there would be a day of reckoning with the media and by extension, the fans who felt so let down (go look at the club’s home record this year), so what possible purpose did it serve for the team’s leadership to go completely silent while allowing the negative narrative to fester and become even more toxic for five full days?

Fill disclosure: I work in public relations, so regardless of who my boss is, I would never advise that kind of course of action. This story wasn’t going away, and the B’s front office added to their problems by going silent when public scrutiny on them was at its most intense. They might have had some very good reasons for it, but now it doesn’t matter. Why? Because it simply reinforced the growing narrative that the current regime doesn’t know what it is doing. Right, wrong…who cares? In life, we tell ourselves to focus on what we can control. In this case, the B’s had some control over the narrative and how the media presented their side of things.

By going MIA when the wound was at its most critical, they surrendered an essential opportunity to win some confidence by those fair-minded but concerned supporters in the middle. A statement would not have done much to affect the extremes- those who want the entire front office and Julien fired, nor those who are staunch in their support and believe that the team’s leadership deserves more time to get things right no matter what. Those groups are loud and vocal…but they are also a minority. The larger element of the Bruins fanbase tries to take a more logical, less emotional and reactionary stance- they call things like they see them. And when the B’s leadership sent the players out but were nowhere to be seen, it didn’t matter what reasons they had for doing so- they lost more supporters than they gained.

Sweeney and Julien came out to face the music first…five days after the Saturday afternoon massacre at the TD Garden when the B’s not only blew a lead (again!) in what was essentially win or go home scenario but also utterly collapsed in the process with a nightmarish second period with $7M goalie Tuukka Rask ill and unable to even try to be a difference-maker.  Of course, it wouldn’t have made a difference, but again- it isn’t that we arrived to this boiling point in Boston- it’s the HOW it all happened.

As Steve Conroy wrote in the Boston Herald, if folks wanted to see someone’s head on a pike over what happened this year, they were not appeased. Here was the defining quote from Sweeney, and one that will continue to be brought up during his tenure as GM of the Bruins going forward if progress is not made:

“I don’t believe we need a major overhaul. I believe we need to continue to forge depth in the organization,” said Sweeney. “You have to have a plan that allows players to develop at the right time that they’re supposed to, rather than force a player.

“At times when you don’t have the depth overall, you do (force); you can expose a younger player and we’d like to have the patience in that regard.”

Sweeney knows there is work to be done. He’s certainly not resting on his laurels, because the day after that presser, he was out in North Dakota watching those Under-18 championships. Say what you will about Sweeney, but I saw firsthand that he was working with his scouts and trusted personnel men to try and identify the kind of longer-term solutions that might help the B’s return to legitimate contention down the road. Nobody that the Bruins scouted over the past 10 days is going to ride into town next October and reverse the direction of the franchise, but no one can accuse Sweeney of leaving the details to others, either. He’s clearly invested in the way ahead and was present at the last major tournament of the season to see for himself the players his guys want the Bruins to put their faith in at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.

Unfortunately for Sweeney, he has become fair game for those who question his managerial acumen, and as he said in the presser, there is much work to do. His most pressing needs remain in addressing a woeful defense that was a question mark going into the season and came undone at the absolute worst possible time. Not to beat a dead horse, but we all knew for certain that the Boston defense was an issue after the very first three games of the season, but Sweeney made no moves to address it until very late in the year when he acquired John-Michael Liles at the deadline. The Boston D cost the B’s critical points throughout the season, but it was the offense and at times, the goaltending that covered up for them and kept the team winning. That is, until the very end- when all facets of the roster began sputtering and ultimately dropped out of the playoff race in spectacularly frustrating fashion.

Had the B’s been in and out of the playoffs all season long and ridden more protracted valleys from December to March, then there’s a good chance the backlash would not have been as severe. Sure, there is always anger and sharp criticism when a team fails to reach the postseason, but most fans in Boston feel like simply making the playoffs should not be a goal in itself. They’d rather see a burn-the-boats and build-it-from-the-waterline-up approach to cut out the rot and start anew than a strategy that swaps out a few pieces but leaves the larger holes and vulnerabilities (the defense) unaddressed.

Sweeney is a smart guy and he/his team works hard. One team source told me that the organization was “devastated” after what happened and I believe him. Even though it is easy to sit back and point fingers and say, “I told you so” after the fact, the reality is- the Bruins played over the heads so much that by March 18, many of us wanted to believe…no, we believed they were going to make the postseason. Few had many illusions of how far the B’s might get, but taking steps forward after the 2015 offseason and the questions surrounding the team going into the year would have been a moral victory for the organization and its players. These guys don’t go through the grind of an entire NHL campaign and all that comes with it just to tank and lose on purpose. As simple as we sometimes might think it is to just sell off pieces and swirl down the drain, the players had sent a message that making the push was worth a try. It’s easy to say now that it wasn’t worth it, but most of us, if we’re truly honest with ourselves, that is- know in our heart of hearts that we were pleasantly surprised at what the Bruins had accomplished, especially in those critical days after the trade deadline when they went on their best winning streak of the season only to match it with an even more horrific downward spiral.

That opens the door for a debate that there is more good on this team than bad, but the Bruins are now at a critical crossroads and if any goodwill existed before, it will take a lot of work by Sweeney and Neely, the two faces of the team’s management, to earn it back.

Cameron Michael Neely is a far more complex figure in this drama.

It is pretty disconcerting that in the several years since the B’s faltered against Montreal in the 2014 playoffs up to now, he has gone from being one of the most beloved figures in team lore to one of the major villains of the current chapter in the eyes of some.

As a player, he was the premier power forward of the late 1980s and through the early-to-mid 90’s until chronic hip and knee injuries forced his retirement from the game at just 31 years of age. He was everything fans loved about their Bruins- tough and rugged, but able to come through with the workmanlike goals when the team needed them. He parlayed those heroics into a place in the Hall of Fame in 2005, even though he never won a Stanley Cup as a player. Other more accomplished skaters are still awaiting entry, but Neely’s tenure on the Bruins transcended the stats and individual accomplishments. His emotion and iron will often took the team places it had no business being, and that’s what made him a hero in Boston sports lore. When you look up into the rafters at TD Garden, Neely’s No. 8 hangs proudly there, as a testament to his legacy as a player who was the  club’s heart and soul and who often wore his emotions on his sleeve. He didn’t go out on his own terms in 1996, and that fact, more than any other, might be feeding into the perilous waters his legend has navigated into of late.

Because now, as an executive, that same emotion threatens his standing as one of the city’s icons. As more questions emerge as to how much involvement, no- power– he has within the B’s hierarchy, his stewardship and the direction the team has gone in since reaching a zenith in 2011 and appearing to be on the cusp of being the Blackhawks of the East with a return to the Stanley Cup final in 2013, is under fire.

Steve Harris quoted Neely in the Boston Herald after his (and ownership’s)  presser this past week:

“We know where our better players are in their careers,” said Neely. “We have an idea on how many good years they have left to be at the top of their game. It’s very important for us to add pieces around them to compete for a Cup. That has to happen sooner rather than later.

“I hate to lose more than I love to win. I don’t like missing the playoffs. And I want everybody else to feel the same way.”

That’s some good copy and on its face makes perfect sense, but it doesn’t play well to the skeptics who don’t want the focus to be on missing the playoffs. Just making the postseason is not the goal…and their point that it shouldn’t be the emphasis on where the Bruins went wrong this year is a valid one. The flip side of that argument is that exposing the team’s younger players to the intensity and pace of playoff hockey was a bigger reward than going home in mid-April. We can see both sides of the argument, but one of them opens the door to the old mistrust and negative outlook fans had for the Jacobs family and the perceived profit-over-winning mentality that dogged the Bruins during the pre-2004 lockout era of escalating salaries from about 1996 and on.

For their part, Jeremy and his son Charles Jacobs have reinforced their support for management and insisted that there was no “make the playoffs or else” ultimatum which drove the half-in, half-out perception that has dogged Sweeney and the team since the deadline with the decision to not move UFA-to-be Loui Eriksson and instead acquire a pair of marginal veterans in Liles and Lee Stempniak, who certainly had their moments, but were ultimately unable to make a difference when the team needed it the most. We have no choice but to take them at their word.

It does beg the question, though- if former longtime Bruins GM and President Harry Sinden is somewhere in the mix dispensing advice and serving as a consultant (his position is “senior advisor”, what exactly is he doing? Exactly what kind of role does he have? What form is his potential influence manifesting on not one but two of his player proteges- Neely and Sweeney?  Hmmm…that’s more than just one question, isn’t it?

But I won’t stop there: how much are Sweeney’s hands tied as a GM who doesn’t hold the dual title of President and GM? Meaning, he does not wield the complete autonomy that other people like Stan Bowman in Chicago, for example, do. And, that, as the Bard once said- is the rub. Who’s the one with the vision? And who truly is the one who is behind the decisions that have moved this team backwards since looking like a perennial power as recently as 2014? Plenty of questions, not a lot of definitive answers after a couple of press conferences to be honest.

So this brings us back to the present.

The seat has gotten hotter at the top, and we saw some of the frustration boil over this week in Neely’s most recent radio spot with 98.5’s Michael Felger and Tony ‘Mazz’ Massarotti. I briefly spoke to Sweeney in Grand Forks, but out of respect to him and our relationship, I won’t discuss it here other than to say that he understands where the fans are coming from. In a perfect world, he could snap his fingers and simply fix what ails his hockey club. Alas, we don’t live in that world, so he faces major challenges in trying to work trades and transactions in a league where 29 other general managers know what he needs and will try and squeeze every last asset out of Boston to make something happen.

There are reasons for optimism in the youth movement (and I didn’t even get to the notion that Julien and the B’s “failed” to develop the younger players this season- that’s a whole different can of worms and not one I wish to open today). The Bruins have some promising rising forwards such as Frank Vatrano, Danton Heinen and Austin Czarnik, all of whom saw action in the pro ranks this year, with Vatrano’s 36 goals in 36 regular season games leading the way. None of them are first-round picks, but a couple who are- Zach Senyshyn and Jake DeBrusk– showed progress in different areas this season after going 14 and 15 overall last June.  By virtue of Senyshyn’s 45 goals, DeBrusk will likely become the lightning rod for criticism given that the B’s passed on several higher-profile players to take them, but what’s done is done- none of Boston’s drafted forwards performed poorly this season, and guys like Jesse Gabrielle, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Ryan Fitzgerald, Anders Bjork and Ryan Donato all had very good years for their respective teams.

On defense, as tough as it may be for some to admit it, Colin Miller was not the key difference-making player fans were clamoring for. He’s got fine offensive tools to be sure, but his defense left a great deal to be desired and we saw that in the final NHL games and AHL postseason. He’s got some NHL potential yet as a complementary piece, and by no means am I advocating the scrapheap for him, but there was a reason the Kings were willing to part with him, Martin Jones AND a 1st-round pick for Milan Lucic. If they saw him as a stud future No. 1, Dean Lombardi never agrees to include Miller in that trade. “Chiller” has his place on this team going forward, but he didn’t do enough to earn the coach’s trust to play more and that is as much on him as it is anyone else. We can argue all day over whether he would have been a better option than Kevan Miller or if the B’s were better off just throwing him out there in the wake of committing defensive mistake after defensive mistake in the name of seeing him “grow” but that didn’t happen. What we see from him next is what matters most.

Brandon Carlo, Rob O’Gara and Matt Grzelcyk could bring some more immediate help, but with no NHL experience between them, it is probably too much to expect a major impact and move in the right direction at defense without some proven NHL talent coming to Boston this summer by trade and free agency. 2015 1st-rounder Jakub Zboril didn’t have a great season, but he’s been playing much better in the QMJHL playoffs, and the B’s appear to have dodged a major bullet when Jeremy Lauzon’s throat was cut by a skate blade, but it just missed doing crippling damage. There’s some hope in the stable of prospects for some positive contributions, but the Bruins are lacking one true, young thoroughbred on the blue line, so the solid types like these guys tend to get lost in the shuffle a bit.

Assuming the Bruins keep the 14th overall selection with the NHL’s draft lottery to happen on April 30 (don’t hold your breath for a magical top-3 scenario for the club), they still stand to get a very good player, as the non-playoff clubs are all in position to benefit from the first-round before the talent drops off. They also own San Jose’s pick, currently at 19th overall, but the Sharks upset the favored Los Angeles Kings in round one, and if they win the next round, that pick will slide lower in the round. There’s no telling if Boston will trade one of their firsts as part of a package deal for a legitimate NHL d-man before the draft, but fans need to prepare for that scenario. You have to give to get.

Ultimately, where we are with the Bruins is largely of management’s making. Former GM Peter Chiarelli limited the team’s flexibility and options, but they aren’t where they are solely because of him, either. Management has got to start talking in one voice and it wouldn’t hurt to lose some of the platitudes and speaking more plainly about accountability and a vision for the club’s future. The fans will fill the building when the team wins, but they have to believe in what the organization is doing.

Right now, we’re not sure if the ship is rudderless in a roiling sea or the man at the helm has quietly been making a more dangerous-looking course correction that will in time take us into calmer waters.

What we do know is that change must happen. This team as currently constructed is an also-ran, middle-of-the-pack at best. Sweeney showed us last June that he is capable of bold, decisive action.

What we don’t yet know is if he has the vision, evaluation ability and power to get the Boston Bruins back to the level that the fans have come to expect.

As the great Canadian band Rush sang in 1989- “Show don’t tell”




Claude Julien stays, 1st day of U18s hints to B’s draft

Thursday was an eventful day for the Boston Bruins as GM Don Sweeney made it official that head coach Claude Julien would be back for (at least the start of) the 2016-17 season, his tenth with the team.

It’s the right move. I know there is a vocal contingent of fans who want him gone, and we get it- because it’s Boston, passions get inflamed. But, I had a couple of exchanges on Twitter that reminded me of the fact that the “Turf Claude” movement doesn’t have much in the way of solutions or answers- they just want some change, any change, and firing the coach is the most accepted move. Ultimately, many of us have been conditioned to blame the coach and put him out as a scapegoat because it’s harder to fire players and with the Stanley Cup playoffs happening, there isn’t much in the way of trades to be made right now.

I go back to Boston’s road trip in February and the discussions I had with several members of the Bruins organization (who will go nameless because our talks were not on the record) who were emphatic in their respect for the job Claude had done, knowing that the defense he had this year but the Bruins at a disadvantage most nights. Yes, the final month collapse was troubling, and the Bruins know this. The players could have spared Claude the angst and debate leading up to yesterday’s pressed by performing and not being the NHL’s worst club over the last 30 days of the regular season. The players could have found a way, yet for the anti-Julien crowd, it’s all about getting rid of the coach. Not sure the ghost of Toe Blake could have coached that group into the postseason.

What is so surprising to me is the lack of give and take that I experience on places like Twitter. One fan tells me “Claude stifles the kids” and when I point out several examples to the contrary, there are a legion of “yeah buts” or outright dismissals that follow. If you want to have a debate, let’s have one, but you need to be honest when you come to the table. Honesty is something that I find lacking in some…the passion and emotion is certainly there, but if you don’t really grasp how personnel transactions work in the NHL and who does what within an organization, then how can we really have an intelligent discussion? When it comes to this kind of thing, you’re always entitled to your opinion, but you can’t make up your own facts or conveniently omit the ones that undercut your position.

If someone wants to have the debate about how Julien “hates” young players and can lay out a coherent argument for that, then have it. I have yet to see someone who can clearly articulate that position, even if there are merits to the idea that there are things Julien can do better. But let’s face it…that is true for everyone. Nobody is perfect, so absence a cogent idea and plan to put a better option in place as head coach, then Bruins fans should be careful what they wish for. You don’t want to make perfection the enemy of good enough, so we’ll now watch as the team focuses its energies on addressing the defense and giving Chef Julien better ingredients to cook with. If he can’t get it done, than an eventual change at coach must follow.

Nothing lasts forever.

Speaking of defense, here’s a dispatch from Grand Forks, where we watched the first day of the World Under-18 tournament on Thursday.

The pickings were pretty slim in the first two games- Latvia vs Switzerland and Denmark vs Slovakia. The second match was a nightmare for the goalies, as we witnessed six (6) goals on nine (9) total shots in a 3-3 game in the first 10 minutes. The Slovak starter was beaten on all three shots he faced, and got the quick hook. Slovakia captain Samuel Solensky might be small, but he’s a little buzz saw of a creator out there, scoring a pair of goals and impressing with his hustle and knack for making plays.

Finland-Czech Republic was a big draw for the NHL scouts, with a 6 pm start on the other side of town. Managed to catch 2 periods of that one and it became clear to me why Finnish defenseman Markus Niemelainen is drawing interest from the Bruins.

At 6-5, he looks even bigger in person (and the confines of the ICON Center’s Judd Rink wasn’t great for sight lines, but it put you far, far closer to the action that at the Ralph)and his skating is so fluid and effective for such a big man. It was a quiet game (at least in the 40 minutes I saw) offensively for Niemelainen, but he did a good job of reading/reacting, and activating at the right time, and he played a smart, efficient game in all zones. He had one memorable textbook hip check, where he just slide across the ice effortlessly and drilled a Czech forward into the boards to negate the rush. He did lose his gap on one of the Czech goals, but he looks like a player to me. Not sure about the offensive upside but will get several more looks.

The standout performer for me was Finnish forward Eeli Tolvanen (2017 NHL Draft)- he was fast and sniped an unbelievable goal right in front of us, hitting as small as spot in the net as you can have. It would have beaten NHL goalie, and he’s projected as a 1st-rounder next year.

USA-Russia was an 8-2 rout, but the Russian U17s (most of their U18 roster was DQ’d for a failed drug test) hung in tough for the better part of two periods, erasing a two-goal deficit before Maxim Zhukov allowed an egregious sharp-angle goal to Clayton Keller to break the tie in the late second. Just a few ticks later, Kieffer Bellows got in behind the D and ripped a shot into twine to make it 4-2 and USA dominated the 3rd.

Speaking of the Russian D- Windsor Spitfires rearguard Mikhail Sergachev came as advertised- outstanding skater, aggressive, moved the puck with authority. He’s being projected to go in the top-10 so not an expected option for the Bruins. Having said that, even with their lack of success with Russians, he’s got some of the highest home run potential of any player available and I imagine they know it.

I’ll be back with more thoughts on the U18 as the tourney progresses. Thanks for reading.

Bruins injuries contributed to collapse

Monday was move out day for the Boston Bruins, as players cleaned out their dressing room stalls and packed up for the offseason. As is the tradition, the media got to grill…er…ask them questions (I kid, I kid- as a card-carrying member of the Boston Chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association I’m all about it) about where it all went wrong.

Here are a few key things we learned:

David Krejci’s injury- it was no secret he was struggling with something- is a recurrence of a hip injury and surgery he had back in 2010. As mentioned in the recent post and podcast, Krejci turns 30 soon, carries the highest AAV on the team, and is now going under the knife for what could possibly be a chronic injury for him going forward. It’s certainly something to monitor, and Krejci said he injured it early in the 2014-15 season, limiting him to just 47 games. Surgery is the last resort, so after rest and therapy didn’t do the trick, the Bruins and their fans can only hope this gets him back to 100 percent as the procedure he had six years ago did. Timetable for recovery is 4 months at the very least, but missing the playoffs gives him a needed head start.

Dennis Seidenberg had a groin strain that kept him off the ice for the final spate of games. His experience is his best attribute, but never a great skater to begin with, the lower-body injuries appear to be a fact of life for him.

Patrice Bergeron played the rest of the season on a sprained ankle after his fight with former teammate Blake Wheeler in February. He missed a few games on Boston’s western road trip, but gutted it out and reached the 30-goal plateau for the 3rd time in his career. Bergeron symbolizes everything that is good about the Bruins, their values and traditions. He needs help, though- can’t do it alone.

Brett Connolly was out of the lineup with a sprained MCL…ditto Jimmy Hayes. Wouldn’t have mattered- those two had disappointing seasons lacking in consistency and the ability to raise their games and production when the team needed it.

Interestingly, no one from management or the coaching staff was made available. Not sure how much to read into that, or if it is a harbinger of personnel changes afoot, but stay tuned.