Bruins playoff roster quick hits: Forwards (Pt. 2)

Pastrnak

(Eyes on the prize: David Pastrnak is the present and future of the Boston Bruins franchise. Fans are truly fortunate to watch the electrifying trio of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Pastrnak, and the healthy unit has something to prove.)

Back to close out the Boston Bruins 2020 NHL Playoff preview series with the back half of the B’s forwards listed alphabetically. We hope you have enjoyed the posts, and let us know if there is anything else you want to see. Stay tuned for some more thoughts and observations on the B’s roster from the Amigos- coming this weekend and early next week.

Sean Kuraly- Every year since the B’s broke their two-season playoff drought in 2017, the former Miami University captain has made postseason plays to earn him the “Clutch Kuraly” moniker, so 2020 should not be any different. Right now, he’s practicing on the third line at right wing, but he’s probably going to shift back down to the fourth line, where he has proven himself to be effective as a two-way forward with the size, speed and situational sense to make offensive plays at opportune moments. One of the assets acquired for Martin Jones in the summer of 2015, Kuraly is yet another example of the Bruins archetype of a mobile, versatile forward who elevates his game and production when pace of a contest picks up.

Kuraly

(Somehow, watching Sean Kuraly celebrate a big goal in the playoffs has become an annual spring tradition in Boston)

Karson Kuhlman- Another NCAA captain, Kuhlman won a championship as Frozen Four MVP for University of Minnesota-Duluth in 2018 and a year later, was nearly a part of an NHL championship. Like Kuraly, he’s clutch- his speed, pace/energy and intelligence all combine to make him a prime playoff performer, even if the Esko native doesn’t have a top-line skill set. The undrafted free agent is the quintessential Bruin, who interestingly enough, listed Boston as the one city in the USA he wanted to move to in an interview well before he signed with the B’s- it was meant to be. He emerged a year ago to earn a regular spot on the team’s playoff roster, and although it wasn’t all smooth sailing this past year, he provides options for Bruce Cassidy and the coaching staff as a sparkplug who can be an asset. Whether he’ll be able to break through the logjam up front with everyone currently healthy, rested and vying for a role on the established lines remains to be seen, but you know what you’ll get with Kuhlman.

Par Lindholm- Signed for depth and youthful NHL experience after splitting 2018-19 between Toronto and Winnipeg, Lindholm played 40 games for the B’s, posting a modest 3-3-6 stat line. He’s a capable player to round out the bottom of the roster and a solid plug-and-play option for the Boston coaches to use to exploit defensive matchups.

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Brad Marchand is the team’s top LW period. End of story. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Brad Marchand- Boston’s first 100-point scorer since Joe Thornton in 2003 had a chance to repeat the feat had he gone slightly more than a point-per-game over the final 11 before the pause, but will gladly exchange that lost opportunity for another shot at the Stanley Cup. We won’t sugarcoat it- he had some questionable plays against the Blues in the 2019 championship series, and that team’s supporters and everyone else rooting against the B’s had a field day with memes featuring a despondent Marchand as the visitors skated around the TD Garden ice with the Stanley Cup. 2020 is a new year and chance for Boston’s top left wing to get some redemption and erase the smug grins on the faces of his many detractors.

Although 32, Marchand can still fly and is the most skilled and creative forward on the Boston roster. With a pair of superstars on that line in Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, Marchand is lethal, and he’s lost none of the abrasiveness that has been his hallmark since the earliest days of minor hockey.

Of all the B’s forwards who can crack opposing defenses and goalies like an egg, Marchand is the one who could be the linchpin going forward. In seven games against the Blues, he scored just two goals and five points, while being held scoreless in three of those contests. He was capable of more, and we think we’ll see it this time around.

Joakim Nordstrom- The veteran defensive forward signed two years ago isn’t likely to get a contract extension, but he’s a solid plumber type who does his job without a lot of fanfare (or production). He’s a bottom-six guy, currently skating on the left side of the Phase III fourth line with Lindholm and Chris Wagner, but that lineup was missing Pastrnak and Ondrej Kase, so we’ll see Anders Bjork and Kuraly dropping down, which could impact Nordstrom’s role and ice time.

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David Pastrnak is the player the Boston Bruins have been waiting for. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

David Pastrnak- The B’s had a limited skate with the younger players on the roster Wednesday, but one veteran was with the black aces- a sight for sore eyes- No. 88, in his first practice action since the pause. One of those future Bruins taking notes on the leading scorer’s practice habits was Jack Studnicka.

“He’s (an unbelievable talent,” Studnicka said via remote call after the session. “Obviously his year kind of speaks for itself how he was able to contribute offensively on such a consistent basis.

“To see how he practices- he’s always moving full speed and finding ways to be creative and be better. It was definitely fun to share the ice with him.”

Pastrnak led the team in scoring with 95 points and became the first Bruins player to win the Henri “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the top goal scorer, an honor his 48 goals shared with future Hall of Famer Alexander Ovechkin. As an elite goal scorer, Pastrnak excels at finding space and quiet ice in the offensive zone and unleashes a shot with a hyper-quick release, deadly accuracy and a heaviness that belies his average size and frame.

In short, he’s a natural who has blossomed into one of the NHL’s true young super stars- and with his exuberance and genuine personality on and off the ice, Bruins fans are right to be salivating at the thought of what Pastrnak is going to do in the postseason.

Calgary Flames v Boston Bruins

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – FEBRUARY 25: Nick Ritchie #21 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the first period of the game against the Calgary Flames at TD Garden on February 25, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Nick Ritchie- Like Kase, Ritchie was acquired at the trade deadline from the Anaheim Ducks, and the big power forward has much to prove after being selected 15 spots ahead of Pastrnak and 106 spots ahead of the player the B’s traded for him- Danton Heinen (Anders Bjork went 136 spots after Ritchie, for the record…okay, we’ll stop now).

Ritchie is another heavy, possession forward who, when he’s moving his feet, is tough to contain and is an asset in tightly-contested spaces typical of playoff games. He’s also got some nasty- when he gets fired up, he can hit and fight with the best of them. Like Kase, he’s going to benefit from a training camp to get himself adjusted better to his new team and coaching staff.  The younger Ritchie admittedly put himself in position to receive the questions and criticism with an inconsistent work ethic and intensity level, so we’ll see how it all plays out for him in Boston- with his tools, he could turn things around in a hurry. If he doesn’t, there are plenty of options the B’s have to put into the lineup.

He’s had a slow start to his NHL career relative to his high draft position, and his regular season numbers aren’t anything to write home about. But the reality is this- if Ritchie had delivered on the immense potential he had in junior off the bat, the Ducks never would have made him available for trade to Boston. There is no doubt the organization is taking on some risk here, but in moving a player they had multiple versions of in Heinen, they have added another potential horse with some real reward who is young enough to blossom  with a better pool of talent around him.

Zach Senyshyn- We’re tabling any reference to the 2015 draft here and will just say that while his chances of breaking through to establish a spot on this roster right now and play meaningful playoff action is remote, the former Soo Greyhound is getting closer to staking a legitimate claim. For now, he’ll join the other young black aces in Boston and benefit from the opportunity to be around the veterans and absorb the culture and atmosphere of NHL playoffs. The size and skating gives him a chance to play up or down in the lineup- it’s just a hardcore group ahead of him on the depth chart. Sometimes, we forget that he’s just 23- still time to see him bear some fruit, even if the clock is admittedly ticking.

Jack Studnicka- A year ago, the 2017 second-rounder was a black ace on Boston’s deep run, and he’s back for more as he appears to be on the verge of making the lineup as a full-time NHLer soon. The steal of a late second-round selection led the AHL in shorthanded goals and his own Providence club in scoring. He’s never put up eye-popping offensive numbers, but doesn’t have to because he’s a top three-zone forward in the mold of Bergeron. He’s Boston’s best prospect in our view, and the team will make room for him soon as he has done very well in his young pro career to date. There’s a lot to like with Studnicka, and the Bruins know that what they have is special- no need to rush to failure, but when the time comes, he’ll likely seamlessly slot right in and look like a seasoned veteran from the get-go.

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Jack Studnicka (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Chris Wagner- Another local and the 2019 Seventh Player Award winner for the B’s after signing as an unrestricted free agent the summer before is more of a depth piece on this deep forward group, but he’s a proven grinder and NHL commodity who brings a junkyard dog mentality on every shift. Wagner may not be as talented as other forwards on the roster, but the coaches trust him to go out and grind, create space for himself, and use his nonstop motor and manic, relentless style to generate timely offense. We’ll admit it- we’ve always had a lot of time for Wagner going back to his days with the South Shore Kings, and while the advanced stats might not always break in his favor, he brings that positive x-factor to the Boston lineup and gives the team every ounce of his talent. He’s a worthy successor to the storied “lunch pail gang” legacy that the Bruins hang their (hard) hats on.

 

Friday Flashback: Bruins 2006 Draft

Here’s a comprehensive look at the 2006 Boston Bruins draft, which transformed the franchise in a single weekend of picks and one major trade. Other than 1979, there isn’t a more impactful single draft in team history, though 1980 was quite strong, along with 2014 more recently. Here you go- KL

Brad_Marchand

(Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

The Boston Bruins franchise was in disarray at the conclusion of the 2005-06 hockey season and faced a crucial crossroads leading up to the entry draft being in Vancouver that June.

A year that began with promise with the return of NHL hockey after a lockout cancelled the 2004-05 big league campaign descended into chaos and despair when a series of big-money free agent signings went bust (Alexei Zhamnov, Brian Leetch, Dave Scatchard) and franchise face Joe Thornton was traded to San Jose before December for the kind of return that ultimately sealed Mike O’Connell’s (Cohasset, Mass.) fate as Bruins GM. O’Connell’s departure opened the door for one-time Harvard hockey captain Peter Chiarelli’s ascension as the B’s new chief of management and operations, but as the assistant GM of the Ottawa Senators, the job of riding herd over Boston’s 2006 draft and early phases of free agency fell to O’Connell’s interim replacement, Jeff Gorton.

 Thanks to a win by the Columbus Blue Jackets on the final day of the 2005-06 regular season, the Bruins slid into the fifth overall draft position (not affected by the draft lottery, won by St. Louis).  Two points are what separated the B’s from Phil Kessel and someone else (Derick Brassard went one selection later at sixth overall). Kessel may no longer be with the Bruins, but his impact will likely be felt in the years to come, even if the jury is still out on the players received from Toronto and then Dallas last summer.

The B’s former chief amateur scout and current director of player personnel, Scott Bradley, called 2006 a “historic” draft year and critical moment for the rebuilding of the once proud franchise’s sagging fortunes. Little did Bradley know at the time that his words would prove to be prophetic, and that just five years later, the club would reverse direction from the road to ruin to Stanley Cup glory in the very city the draft occurred, defeating the Vancouver Canucks in an epic seven-game championship series.

Boston’s selections in the second and third rounds were instrumental in the 2011 Stanley Cup championship and run to the 2013 Stanley Cup final: Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand, while No. 1 goaltender Tuukka Rask’s history is inextricably linked to the 2006 draft as well. Although Lucic was traded five years ago, Marchand has ascended to NHL superstardom, as has Rask, who could be in line to collect the second Vezina Trophy of his career after a shortened 2019-20 season. Marchand and Rask helped lead the B’s to within one win of the 2019 Stanley Cup championship, though they fell short at home to the St. Louis Blues.

Nearly a decade-and-a-half later, Boston’s 2006 draft is still making a direct and indirect impact on the team’s fortunes.

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2006: Turning Point

Brad_Marchand

Brad Marchand is the team’s top LW period. End of story. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

(This is a re-worked and updated story done for the New England Hockey Journal in 2011- KL)

If ever there was a year that altered an NHL franchise’s destiny, 2006 was the pivotal one for the Boston Bruins as we look back nearly a decade-and-a-half later.

As the calendar flipped over to January 2006, the post-lockout campaign was a disaster.

Already, the team traded its captain and 1997 first overall pick Joe Thornton. Soon, it would fire GM Mike O’Connell and head coach Mike Sullivan. The B’s finished out of the playoffs with the fifth-worst record. Free agent signings supposed to help put the B’s in contention like Alexei Zhamnov and Dave Scatchard were complete busts, with a grand total of 40 games and five goals in Boston between them.

The franchise had stumbled badly in a decade since the bottoming-out of 1997 that had netted Thornton and Sergei Samsonov. That new era that began with so much promise when the latter took NHL Rookie of the Year honors and the late Pat Burns helped lead the B’s back to the postseason in 1998 was about to be officially done when Samsonov was dealt to Edmonton at the trade deadline in a few weeks. Although few realized it in 2006, a series of critical trades, hires, signings and events paved the way for Boston to become a championship city once again.

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Thoughts on the 2011 Bruins Game 7 Zoom reunion

 

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It may or may not have gone exactly the way the Boston Bruins public and media relations staff drew it up, but last night’s 2011 Stanley Cup team reunion on Zoom broadcast with Game 7 on NESN was high entertainment for those who got a chance to see it, even if the humor was narrowly focused on the B’s fanbase.

I mean, take 20 players, some still in the NHL as players and coaching staff, others out of the NHL but still involved in the game, and a few more retired and out of hockey, add wine, beer or other more potent libations of choice, quarantine during a global pandemic and then have them re-live one of the greatest games of their lives via virtual conferencing technology. What could possibly go wrong, right?

Right.

From a fan perspective, the event was gold, and it is one more example of the modern information age opening the door for the public getting to see a side of hockey players and the culture that they are rarely able…or authorized to. It was unfiltered, uncensored and unbelievable- just 20 guys watching what was for most of them, the finest moment of their careers, distilled to one decisive, crystalline 60-minute victory on the road to cap an improbable comeback of a dream season.

Championship teams win because when they go to battle on ice, they fight for each other. The NHL’s playoffs- more than two months of grueling, grinding, grappling to climb the summit and raise the Stanley Cup overhead in the middle of June- is a war of attrition that requires such excellence in performance but also unmatched, singular dedication to each and every one involved in reaching that goal. A lesser team would not have survived a pair of 0-2 holes in two of four playoff series that year. A dysfunctional group would have crumbled under the pressure of a 0-0 Game 7 against the toughest out of a Tampa Bay Lightning squad that posed a bad matchup for the B’s. In 2011, the Bruins dared us all to believe in them, and then they delivered.

Last night, fans got a firsthand look at why that team was special.

Milan Lucic held court for much of it, reminding us about why he was such a fan favorite in his Bruins days. Yes, his NHL career after being traded away in the summer of 2015 has gone the wrong way, but in 2011, he was at the height of prominence, winning another hockey championship in his home city of Vancouver, just as he did in 2007 as a member of the Memorial Cup-winning Giants of the WHL.

It was good to see Tim Thomas back with his teammates again. His Bruins tenure didn’t end well, and the open wounds on both sides of that departure had been allowed to fester in the intervening years. That is, until a few months back, when Thomas came back home, reluctantly told his story, and the vast majority of those who had felt rejected by his aloofness and distance, embraced him once more. His Vezina Trophy regular season and subsequent Conn Smythe spring of 2011 remains to this day arguably the greatest display of sustained excellence in goaltending the NHL has ever seen, and he deserves to celebrated, not criticized.

Current core Bruins Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask– comprising nearly a quarter of the roster that took home the championship nine years ago are still here. That in itself is a testament to their greatness to this franchise and that legacy will endure in Boston long after the last one of them plays his final game wearing a spoked-B. Many championship teams are all but scattered and gone just a few years later, but for these five to continue to represent this organization and produce the way they have nearly a decade later is proof of that 2011 team’s worthiness as champions.

We’ll stop there. After all, there were so many moments in the broadcast, so many myriad individual examples of why these players were able to accomplish what so many are unable to, but to do so would spoil it for those who haven’t seen it yet. And hopefully, if you missed it, there will be other opportunities for it to be seen and enjoyed going forward. Sure, the language and some of the comments were not for a general audience, but what the players showed us was real and typical of how great teams achieve that greatness- out of pure love and respect for one another, and how such an experience bonds them together for life.

For so many Bruins fans, 2011 marked the end of 39 long years of frustration- of multiple Boston hockey clubs coming oh-so-close to a championship but ultimately falling short. Even after the win in 2011, Boston has returned to the close-but-no-cigar reality of 2013 and 2019. That’s why this team, a group of players known for its cohesiveness even before the playoffs began nine years ago, was the perfect salve for so much disappointment. They were the fourth of Boston’s major sports teams to win a championship after the New England Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002, but for those who bleed Black and Gold, it was about saving the best for last.

For one night in April of 2020, with everything going on around the country and world, with the current NHL season hanging in the balance so trivial in the wake of the larger loss of life to a hideous virus, getting the band back together (minus a few- Nathan Horton and Tomas Kaberle who left early for a business-related call to duty), was exactly what the fans needed.

Reunions remind us of who we are, and that ultimately, we move on from groups and events and go on with our lives. Here’s to those who get it, and understand the power that such an event has against the backdrop of the hurting and uncertainty/disruption in their lives that so many are going through these days. Gratitude that they made it happen and we could see what that experience meant for the men who lived it.

As Lucic, so appropriately reminded us all at reunion’s end last night as he raised his wineglass: “This is a family we’ll have for the rest of our lives. So, I love you guys. Cheers.”

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ADDENDUM:

Here is the recently-posted Zoom video on YouTube “Locker Room Time Machine”

Here is the link to Eric Russo’s NHL.com piece with the highlights in cased you missed it and can’t find a version online.

 

 

 

Bruins in their 3rd Stanley Cup Final since 2011

The Boston Bruins are back to playing for Lord Stanley’s glittering prize- they defeated the Vancouver Canucks in 2011 for the first NHL championship parade in Boston since 1972, came up short in 2013 against the Chicago Blackhawks and now join the Windy City team as the only the second team this decade to reach the SCF three times.

How did we get here?

Tampa Bay and Washington both flamed out in the first round, opening the door for the B’s (or as old Blue Eyes used to croon “Luck be a lady tonight…”) to handily defeat Columbus and Carolina after battling it out with the Toronto Maple Leafs in a second consecutive 1st-round seven-game barn-burner of a series. Out West, wagons like Calgary and 2018 SCF runner-up Vegas were knocked out in the first round as well. Not a bad draw when all is said and done, but no matter who you have to play- winning a championship is never easy.

Now, onto some thoughts on the players:

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Happy 2019- Winter Classic thoughts

2019 is here and the Boston Bruins helped ring in the new year in style with a 4-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL’s annual (since 2008) Winter Classic outdoor game.

Boston’s third trip outside on New Year’s Day was played at the iconic University of Notre Dame football stadium in South Bend, Indiana, the first time a non-football event was played in the home of the Fighting Irish. The B’s were 1-1 in the NHL’s signature event, beating the Philadelphia Flyers at (Frozen) Fenway Park eight years ago on a Marco Sturm OT goal, but getting pumped by the Montreal Canadiens at the home of the New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, in 2016 by a 5-1 score.

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Tuukka Rask (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

For goaltender Tuukka Rask, the 2019 game was a chance for redemption, and he found it, playing well with 36 saves including multiple breakaways and grade A scoring chances. It was also a milestone event for the veteran netminder who has only known Boston as his NHL home since the 2007-08 season. He passed Hall of Fame goalie Cecil “Tiny” Thompson as the goalie with the most career appearances in franchise history. Rask will soon own the most regular season victories for the team as well.

The soon-to-be-32-year-old may be the most polarizing figure we have seen and covered in the 40+ years of following the team as fan and correspondent. A top talent and former 1st-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs before he was dealt to the B’s for Andrew Raycroft even-steven nearly 13 years ago, Rask is often a study in extremes. Ardent fans and supporters often pointing fingers at everyone else on the roster but the man in net when the team doesn’t win with him in the net, while there is an equally obnoxious segment of Boston fans who seem to revel in affixing blame to Rask at every opportunity and making him a convenient scapegoat for their frustrations with the club. There seems to be very little middle ground in the increasingly toxic social media environment when it comes to Rask, but at least in this space, we’ve always tried to be fair-minded in our treatment of the embattled veteran. On this day, he did his job well, and looked every bit the player the Bruins need him to be if they are going to secure a spot in the NHL playoffs for the third consecutive season this spring. The combat math is pretty simple: Rask and Jaroslav Halak give the Bruins the best 1-2 goalie punch in the league. When both of them are on top of their games, the team can beat anyone.

Which brings us to the next point- Patrice Bergeron. It never gets old watching the de facto captain play a textbook complete game of hockey. NHL Network analyst Mike Rupp talked yesterday after the game about how if you polled most NHL players about which player they would want on their team in a one-game, winner-take-all match for the Stanley Cup, you would probably see a large percentage of them vote for Boston’s consummate pro.

Yesterday, we all saw his greatness for what it is- a furious back check to deny a scoring chance at one end that would have opened up a 3-1 advantage for the ‘Hawks, and moments later, an effortless backhand shot that tied the game and opened the door for the B’s to win it on Sean “Clutch” Kuraly’s third period rebound marker (another backhand shot).

At this point of Bergeron’s career, we’re out of superlatives to describe him. He’s the hockey student of the game’s idol- a player who simply does everything right, all day, every day. Some folks are drawn to the sizzle that so many super talents of hockey provide with their speed, pace and skill- you absolutely need those guys. And, the players who rack up oodles of points are always going to get more positive attention than those with middle-of-the-pack numbers. Here’s the rub, though-  those who have careers with skin in the game- whose job security depends on being on the right side of the win-loss column- Bergeron is an inspiration. The Bruins may not have multiple Stanley Cup championships to show for it, but since Bergeron joined the club as a precocious 18-year-old rookie in 2003, it has been a prosperous era for the team despite setbacks and disappointments along the way.

It’s hard to believe because there were other players who popped offensively earlier in their careers, but Bergeron has quietly and steadily climbed to be the third-highest scorer in the storied 2003 NHL Entry Draft class, behind only Eric Staal and Ryan Getzlaf with his 769 career points in 989 games. He’s tied with Thomas Vanek (who will play his 1,000th NHL game on Jan. 4), but Vanek’s days of high production are over- Bergeron will blow by him and establish himself solidly in 3rd behind Staal and Getzlaf. What’s important about this is that offense has never really been the thing that has defined Bergeron’s Hall of Fame career, but he’s proven that the consistent approach of 50-60 points year after year, has helped to propel him to the top of one of the greatest collective draft groups in NHL history. He should have gone over 1,000 NHL games played about 2-3 years ago and would be closing in on 1,000 career points and might be the No. 1 scorer of the 2003 draftees had it not been for 1.5 years of  lockouts and almost 2 full seasons lost to injuries of various types. But even with all the missed time, Bergeron’s impact on the Bruins and the game of hockey cannot be undersold. He is the greatest defensive forward in NHL history. No disrespect to Canadiens great Bob Gainey, who inspired the very Frank J. Selke Trophy which rewards two-way excellence up front, but Bergeron hasn’t benefited from a dynastic machine that the Habs were in the 1970’s, and the offensive production isn’t close.

Simply put- No. 37 is the best there ever was, and he’s inspired a generation of players who want to do things the right way and focus on the habits and details that are lost on so many who can only really focus on the flashy stuff that makes the game so great. There’s room for it all of course, but if I’m in a 1-game knife fight for my hockey life, there’s one guy I’d sell my soul for to have in my lineup: Patrice Bergeron.

Brad Marchand is heating up at the right time. We of course love what David Pastrnak is doing, but the driving engine of Boston’s offense is the Lil’ Ball of Hate, and when he’s finding the back of the net, the wins are plentiful. He generated multiple scoring chances and in the waning seconds, hit the empty net- notching his 42nd point of the season to quietly move closer to Pastrnak’s team-leading 50 points.

Just like Bergeron, both of these forwards embody the luck of the NHL draft- had anyone known what kind of an impact they would have, you’d have seen them go off the board with the 1st or 2nd overall selections in their respective years, and yet, they both essentially fell into Boston’s lap. In a time where fans spend more time kvetching about who the team missed on, it’s sometimes nice to be reminded that the B’s scouting staff, long under the guiding hand of veteran talent chief Scott Bradley and Ryan Nadeau’s vision and leadership, has had some tremendous bargain finds over the years. And we haven’t even gotten into Charlie McAvoy, Anders Bjork, Jack Studnicka and Jakub Lauko yet.

And like Bergeron, Marchand is ascending to the top of the 2006 draft’s scoring list. Of all the players from that class, only Niklas Backstrom, Phil Kessel, Claude Giroux and Jonathan Toews have more than Marchand’s 503 points and counting.

Finally, it was great to see Zdeno Chara out there after returning from injury. Like Tim Wakefield near the end of his MLB career, Chara is a lifetime Bruin, though he played elsewhere before making the Hub his home. He has quietly racked up nearly 1,000 games in the Black and Gold, and like Bergeron, is headed for a place in Toronto’s Hockey Hall of Fame. He’s not the horse he was in his prime, but the steady play, experience and value he provides cannot be understated. Once he retires, whenever that is, the B’s will have a challenge to replace what he means to the club on and off the ice. Instead of rushing to anoint the next wave of youth (and there are some worthy heirs coming down the pipeline), we should all embrace the legend and enjoy him for as long as we can. Once he’s gone, we may not ever see another player quite like him.

Okay- that about does it. Here’s hoping you all have a great and prosperous 2019. Thanks as always for reading the sporadic posts on the blog- didn’t cover all the ground I wanted to on this one, but be on the lookout for more content as the season goes on.

Boston Bruins v Calgary Flames

Brad Marcha-ching!

Just in case you missed it- the Boston Bruins came back from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits against the Columbus Blue Jackets to win their first game of the 2016-17 NHL regular season, thanks in huge part to Brad Marchand’s two goal, five-point night (the second of his career). Marchand and linemates David Backes (2 goals, 3 points) and David Pastrnak (2 goals, 4 points) provided all of the B’s offense in a 6-3 win.

There were a lot of positive storylines to the victory. Boston continued the 2015-16 trend of being road warriors. To whit- the B’s didn’t win their first game last season until the fourth contest on the schedule, dropping its first three home games before winning on the road against Colorado.

In Columbus, it was the Marchand Show, however. Before he went on a tear in the final period, he stood out with inspired play, establishing himself as a puck possession machine while bringing his trademark speed and energy. With Patrice Bergeron out with a lower body injury, Marchand and Backes didn’t miss a beat, putting the home team on their heels once the visiting club managed to tie the game on Backes’ second tally of the second period.

After that, Marchand took over, underscoring why he was Boston’s MVP a season ago and validating the wisdom behind GM Don Sweeney’s move to lock him up to an eight-year, $49 million extension before the season began.

The 71st overall selection in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft has clearly established himself as one of hockey’s elite players. He always had a penchant for big-game play, developing a reputation as a clutch scorer in key playoff and international tournament play as a junior in the QMJHL and in his rookie AHL campaign with the Providence Bruins in 2009. Marchand’s 293 points are by far the best of any third-round player taken in ’06 (Cal Clutterbuck is next with 169 points…in 82 more games played). In rounds 4-7 no one else is even close to Marchand’s point totals, and he’s climbing on many of the guys taken ahead of him in rounds 1-2 as well. Only 10 players drafted between picks 1-70 have more career offense than Marchand does, and you can bet he’ll move up on the list as he hits the prime years of his career.

When younger, Marchand’s questionable discipline on and off the ice distracted from his emergence as one of Boston’s go-to guys, beginning in 2010-11, when he became a full-time NHLer, until last season. He wore the alternate captain’s ‘A’ for one game, then received a suspension for low-bridging Ottawa defender Mark Borowiecki, and losing the leadership symbol. However, if that was one bump in an otherwise outstanding hockey season (37 goals), Marchand is out to prove to the world that he is every bit as good as he looked in the World Cup of Hockey last month, combining with Sidney Crosby and Bergeron to form one of hockey’s most lethal lines for the ages. It was like something out of a Fantasy Hockey nightmare, as opponents of Team Canada discovered, as the trio rode the showcase’s wave all the way to the title.

With Crosby and Bergeron both out of the first games of the new NHL season, Marchand took it upon himself to grab the spotlight (along with super rook Auston Matthews) and even the most ardent fans who dislike Marchand’s style and antics have to grudgingly admit that he is one of the league’s top performers.

The Bruins knew it. That’s why they made sure he didn’t hit the open market next July.

But to think that Boston got him for an annual value of a little over $6M per season is a gift that appears sure to keep on giving. At 28, Marchand is primed for even more.

Here’s a highlight package from Marchand’s night in Ohio compliments of Dafoomie- you can follow him on Twitter:

CrosB’s lead Canada to World Cup win, Seidenberg to Isles a little of this and that

Catching up on some hockey news over the past several days, but the 2016 World Cup of Hockey is officially in the books with a win by Canada. Sidney Crosby took MVP honors after Canada posted two victories over Team Europe coming from behind in the second game to get a late winner from none other than Brad Marchand.  Patrice Bergeron also scored in the decisive contest, as he has done throughout the tournament.

Bergeron and Marchand were dynamic throughout the tourney, and what is nice about their performance is that it opened up the eyes of other fans around the league to what the duo means to the Boston Bruins. The B’s just showed Marchand the love on his new eight-year extension announced this week, and he took a discount to stay in Boston. I’ve been told by several sources who know him that remaining with the team was not really in doubt, as being close to his family in Nova Scotia was important to him, not to mention the fact that he had grown up a Bruin ever since the team moved up in the third round to take him in 2006.

That was an important draft year for the Bruins, as the team ended up with Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic and Marchand (not to mention Tuukka Rask, who was acquired via trade during the proceedings). Only Marchand and Rask remain, but 2006 was a critical year for Boston, ultimately leading to the Stanley Cup championship in 2011.

With the WCOH now in the rearview mirror, Bergeron and Marchand can return to the B’s and put their focus on where it belongs: on preparing to play the 2016-17 NHL season. It appears they made it out of the tournament relatively unscathed (knock on wood) and it’s one more championship they can add to their respective trophy cases. For the rest of the NHL, the two served notice that they belong in the conversation with the league’s constellation of stars, but for Bruins fans- it’s time to get down to brass tacks.

***

Veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg has landed with his old defense partner on Long Island (well, Brooklyn, actually), joining Johnny Boychuk and the New York Islanders on a one-year deal after the B’s bought him out this summer.

He’s a good guy who in the right role can be a serviceable player on the ice, while a solid teammate and addition in the room. After being acquired from the Florida Panthers in 2010, Seidenberg was one of Boston’s most trusted and reliable defenders, but after signing a four-year extension in late 2013, suffered a catastrophic knee injury and was never the same afterwards.

Some have argued over the wisdom of buying him out, but as long as he was here with two more years remaining on that deal, he would have gotten playing time and likely prevented other younger defenders from working their way into the rotation. While he was game and willing to do whatever it takes, his body limited him, and the B’s made the tough decision to move on.

He’s someone who can help the right team as long as he isn’t being asked to do too much, which was the case in Boston last year and in 2014-15. The Stanley Cup-era Seidenberg is long gone, but the 2016 version will likely be a solid if lower-end contributor to the Isles’ fortunes this season.

***

Los Angeles Kings goaltender and pride of Hamden, Connecticut- Jonathan Quick- sported a tribute to the U.S. Army Special Forces on his WCOH mask. The Team USA performance was certainly disappointing, but the mask art, painted by Steve Nash of EyeCandy Air, is definitely not.

My dad served in the Special Forces in the 1970’s and 80’s- before it became an official branch of the U.S. Army, so I guess you could say he was an “old school snake-eater”, but since 9/11- the Global War on Terror has taken a toll on the U.S. military’s special operations forces in particular- they’re still very much in the fight all over the world, but we very rarely hear about the dangerous missions and arduous work they do because of the secret nature of said efforts.

Quick’s mask takes a “less is more” approach, with the crossed arrow branch insignia and “De Oppresso Liber” motto, along with the dagger-through-skull that is a popular tattoo among many in the detachments.

The mask is being auctioned over at the NHL auction site to benefit the Special Forces Charitable Trust, and the current bid is over $10k…well done, Mr. Quick!

This is a pretty informative little blog post about SF for those interested…

And speaking of the U.S. Army, I picked up Amber Smith’s book “Danger Close- My Epic Journey As A Combat Helicopter Pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan”, and it’s a good read. What struck me about it is what a small world we live in, though.

Back in 2005, I was serving in Iraq with the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division in Diyala Province and late in the year, the air cavalry squadron of OH-58D Kiowa Warriors that provided our troops with close air support swapped out with a similar unit from Fort Campbell, Kentucky and the storied 101st Airborne Division “Screaming Eagles.”

As the brigade battle captain, I recall the new unit coming into our airspace on missions and on occasion, hearing the female voice of one of the pilots, whose call sign was ‘Annihilator 24’- she was always all business and that unit- the 2nd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, was always there to support our guys on the ground. But those of us in the brigade’s tactical operations center always wondered who Annihilator 24 was. Well, after picking up the book, I finally have my answer after 11 years- it was Chief Warrant Officer 2 Amber Smith.

She’s written an interesting book about the life of a female combat aviator flying in a fragile, Vietnam-era airframe (the Army retired the OH-58D from active service several years ago), where Kiowa drivers frequently exposed themselves to lethal ground fire in order to deliver .50 caliber and rocket fire to enemy insurgents when our troops were in contact.

I want to thank Ms. Smith (that’s how we address warrant officers in the Army- that and by calling them “Chief”) for her service and support to my unit. She knew me as “Hammer X-Ray” when she would check in and out of our AO- our relationship was purely professional and we wouldn’t know each other if we bumped into each other on the street, but it feels like we’ve been friends for years.

Pick up her book- she’s got quite an interesting story to tell.

Bruins extend Marchand to team-friendly deal; drop 1st preseason game in SO

Brad_Marchand

Brad Marchand looks to be a Bruin for life after re-signing for eight more years effective in 2017 (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Monday was an exciting day for the Boston Bruins and their fans, as news of the long-awaited Brad Marchand extension popped in the morning to the tune of eight years and $49 million, with an average annual cap hit/value of $6.125 million. That comes in under projections, many of which had the former 2006 third-rounder exceeding $7M per season.

The term is perhaps the only sticking point; the new contract expires when Marchand is 37, and is a bit risky- but the reality is that the B’s not only have locked in their top goal scorer (37 goals) with their top player, Patrice Bergeron (who wears No. 37) in the prime years of his career, all spent in Boston since breaking in as a full-time NHLer in the 2010-11 season.

This is a big win for GM Don Sweeney, John Ferguson Jr. and the Bruins- after Marchand’s outstanding showing at the World Cup of Hockey in the past couple of weeks, there was buzz that his chemistry with Sidney Crosby might see the Pittsburgh Penguins come calling, but the reality is- the Bruins and Marchand had been working on this extension for weeks. It was something the B’s knew needed to get done and Sweeney set about doing it, breaking up each year with a blend of salary and signing bonuses. The signing bonus ($24M of the $49M total compensation package over the life of the contract) is interesting because it is guaranteed during a work stoppage where the standard base salary is not. It also allowed the team to break up Marchand’s compensation structure in that he is getting front-loaded pay to the tune of $8M per season in the first couple of years, and then it goes down to $7M, $6M and $5M at various points per before closing out at $4M at the end. Those numbers combine to lower the cap hit to a manageable AAV.

Bottom line: the B’s have both Marchand and Bergeron ($6.825 AAV), their top two forwards, under long-term contracts for just a combined $13M. When you compare that to other top duos around the league- mainly Chicago’s Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane combo of $10.5M AAVs for $21M total per annum- it’s pretty solid work by Boston’s front office.

Marchand has proven he’s a huge piece of this team’s fortunes, and he’s also grown up considerably after putting himself in difficult situations on and off the ice in his junior career and earlier in his Boston years. Last year, he was the MVP (in our view here) and with goal scoring at a premium, he’s shown that he’s absolutely worth the commitment. Boston needs to get more production (and health) out of David Krejci ($7.25M AAV), but Marchand and Bergeron represent some impressive savings that Sweeney can leverage elsewhere on the roster.

Marchand could no doubt have gotten more on the open market if he had held out, but the pride of Hammonds Plains, Nova Scotia has found a home in Boston and wanted to stay. He’s certainly not getting paid peanuts, but he earned this deal and he’s taken the kind of contract that will help his team be competitive, rather than force the B’s to break the bank.

Fans have every reason to be excited.

***

The first preseason game is in the books, and the B’s kids dropped a shootout contest to the Columbus Blue Jackets after Danton Heinen deflected a Brandon Carlo point shot home to tie the game 2-2 early in the 3rd period.

It’s probably apropos that these two combined on the tying goal because they’re the ones who are thought to have the best chance of making the Bruins out of camp of the new crew of rookies. Carlo is huge, mobile and played a poised and effective game last night that drew post-contest raves from Boston assistant and former Providence Bruins bench boss Butch Cassidy. Heinen is just so smart and you can see his hockey sense on display with the way he works the walls and the front of the net. He had a memorable assist against the New Jersey Devils rookies on a Jake DeBrusk goal by going in for the puck then backing out for the return pass and feeding it over to DeBrusk for the one-timer. That vision, anticipation and soft passing touch are why we’ve been pumping Heinen’s tires here at TSP and could very well land him an NHL job right away given Frank Vatrano’s recent foot surgery (which happened yesterday, btw- start the three-month recovery clock now).

Carlo is so big and smooth- he’s not going to come in and dominate as a major two-way threat, but he’s showing that he could earn a role with the big club right away and help to stabilize the right side, unless the coaches feel that top minutes in Providence takes priority. He’ll have the rest of the preseason to determine that decision, but so far so good.

Jimmy Hayes scored Boston’s other goal off a nice pass from DeBrusk- he’s been impressive at the rookie camp as well and is probably ticketed for Providence (but don’t be surprised to see him in Boston at some point).

Anton Khudobin started the game and gave up two goals in two periods, while Zane McIntyre played the third and 3-on-3 overtime periods before giving up Sam Gagner’s shootout goal to end it. He looked poised and effective, which is a needed shot for his confidence going into the new season.

Heinen

 

2016-17 Boston Bruins preview series part 3: the Left Wings

Brad Marchand is the team's top LW period. End of story. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Brad Marchand is the team’s top LW period. End of story. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Scouting Post is back with another attempt to break down what we might see unfold during the 2016-17 NHL campaign as it pertains to the Boston Bruins.

This time, we’re hitting the left wingers, and it all starts with Brad Marchand– the lil’ ball of hate & straw that stirs the goal-scoring drink for the B’s. He’s entering a contract year after coming off a career season, and I’ll break him down in detail for you in the accompanying podcast, so no real need to say more.

Frank Vatrano is the player we have high hopes for in making it as the second-line LW in Boston this year. The Springfield Rifle is talented enough to do it, but it will entail accepting risk on the part of Claude Julien and Co. Can the East Longmeadow native be trusted to shoulder the load- TSP is confident he can. His impressive AHL rookie season was just the tip of the iceberg- Vatrano has the skill and moxie to make it work as a top-6 NHL forward.

On the third line, Matt Beleskey is the guy, though I do go into more about his value contract-wise and what he means to the B’s. I’m sold on Beleskey for the myriad little things he does on and off the ice, but I won’t argue with those who feel that the team isn’t getting enough bang for the buck on his deal. Ultimately, they could do much worse, but if he can improve on his 15 goals and 37 points from a year ago, that would be welcome news indeed.

The fourth line is pretty wide open, and my guess is that Tim Schaller has the inside track. The Merrimack, N.H. native has the size and enough big league ability to be a capable bookend along with Riley Nash over on the right side. He’s listed as a center, but if he’s not going to play in the middle, LW makes a lot of sense for the former undrafted free agent out of Buffalo.

Zac Rinaldo…we hardly knew ye! Well, he’s still hanging around, but my guess is not for much longer.

That leaves a host of other aspiring young players vying for spots on this Boston Bruins club, and I run through just about all of them- from the young pros like Colton Hargrove and Anton Blidh, to new blood AHL options like Jake DeBrusk and Peter Cehlarik. Jesse Gabrielle will be fighting (literally?) to make an impression, and he looked jacked (in a good way) when I saw him in Buffalo for draft weekend. When he’s playing like someone possessed, opponents need to keep their heads on a swivel…he can wreck it on the scoreboard and on the physical side. He’ll have his hands full trying to win a spot on this NHL team given the lack of options the B’s have, but watch for Gabrielle to open up some eyes this month- he took a major step forward last year.

Ryan Fitzgerald isn’t there because he’s entering his senior year at Boston College, but he’s a Swiss Army Knife kind of pro projected player, and he’s going to do some impressive scoring work up on Chestnut Hill this season after breaking out as a junior.

Let’s not forget a couple of undrafted camp invites in Matt Mistele (I pronounce it for you on the podcast)- a 6th-round pick of the Kings in 2014 who didn’t sign and has been a pretty major disappointment since potting 34 goals in the OHL as a 16-17-year-old prior to his draft year. He’s big and talented, but doesn’t use his size and brings inconsistent effort- sounds like he might just fit right in. Simon Stransky is the other as a WHL player this past season who put up a point-per-game with the Prince Albert Raiders and distinguished himself as a playmaking winger with top hockey sense, yet never got a draft call. Both will get an opportunity to show their potential and earn an NHL contract, but in the podcast- we’ll explain why just signing one or both is not as simple as declaring it a must on Twitter and Bruins internet message boards. There are other undrafted/unsigned/ forwards and rookie defensemen in Boston on an invitational basis for the rookie camp portion, but not going to cover them here.

Thanks for reading and listening…keeping this one short and pithy because the pod comes in at around 50 minutes. Enjoy the Winger intro and the Primus outro.

Jesse Gabrielle has added some mass since draft day and is ready for his 2nd NHL training camp

Jesse Gabrielle has added some mass since draft day and is ready for his 2nd NHL training camp