It seems crazy that it has been more than 440 days since there was a near-capacity crowd at a Boston Bruins home game, yet that was the scene at the TD Garden Saturday night as David Pastrnak’s hat trick keyed a 5-2 victory over the New York Islanders in Game 1 of the Eastern Division playoff series.
All three of Pastrnak’s tallies were shooter goals- no junk or gimmes- just smart plays by the 2014 NHL draft’s top finisher and a positive sign that whatever he was going through in a lengthy slump that saw his production fall off considerably in the regular season’s final month is over. No. 88 looks to be back to himself, and the newly-minted 25-year-old whose birthday was this week, sent a warning shot across the bow last night that you had best take notice.
Also scoring for Boston were Charlie McAvoy, who broke a 2-2 tie in the third period with a point shot that beat uber-rookie Ilya Sorokin, and an empty-netter by Taylor Hall.
McAvoy’s goal was scored through a screen set up by Nick Ritchie, who emerged from the penalty box and pursued play into the offensive zone, where he won a puck battle in the corner, then went to the front of the net. Though he didn’t draw an assist on the first strike of the postseason for No. 73, that kind of play from Ritchie is precisely what the B’s need from the big power forward.
Tuukka Rask, who posted his fifth win of spring (56th of his career), was solid in net again. He gave up the opening goal on a power play deflection from Anthony Beauvillier, and later allowed a scorching, rising point shot from d-man Adam Pelech that tied the game in the second period, but that was it.
Pastrnak’s first goal was with the man advantage, and evened the score. Getting the puck to Sorokin’s right, he showed excellent poise to not just try and fire a shot on net with defenseman Scott Mayfield in position to block it. Instead, Pastrnak changed his shooting angle while freezing Mayfield in place to provide a partial screen, then roofed the puck over Sorokin and into the net for his first of three goals. That was a pure goal scorer’s move and points to the fact that Pastrnak is back after struggling offensively and playing a generally moribund game in the first couple of games of the 2021 postseason series against the Washington Capitals.
The story of the night was the raucous Boston crowd, which got plenty to cheer about from the home club and made it be known after more than a year of not having hockey in the building (for the most part). The sounds of the fans and sheer energy and excitement was palpable on television, and one can only imagine the bedlam that went on inside the TD Garden for those present. It is all a welcome feeling, and one we should not ever take for granted again.
Here are a few additional notes/observations:
Beauvillier is a player. Not only did he quiet (briefly) the home crowd with his first period power play marker, but he played with a lot of effort and energy. No. 18 was a noticeable problem early and throughout the game. He’s skilled, very smart and just makes plays. The B’s will have to keep better tabs on the 2015 late first-round pick going forward.
Speaking of 2015 first-round picks… It is just one game, but Mat Barzal didn’t get much accomplished in Game 1. Did he even play? Oh, right- he did. He took that bad penalty near the end of the third period with this team down a pair and desperately needing a goal to make it a game. Yes, he’s an unreal talent and there is no denying six years later that the Bruins missed out by not drafting him. He’s a heck of a player, but as skilled and offensively savvy as he is, there is an inconsistency in his effort and his lack of size exposes him in playoff matchups like this one. Monday will be a new night and opportunity for Barzal to remind the Bruins that they messed up. But last night…wasn’t it, chief. And if you’re one of those folks out there who has been feeding the white noise machine nonstop since it became evident that the B’s were on the wrong side of that draft call, your silence this morning is deafening. Ok, we don’t usually like to spike the football, but in this case- we’re making an exception. Again- Barzal is a good player and the B’s blew it not drafting him. But, on one night at least, he didn’t look like a top player, and to be frank- he hasn’t been all that impactful this spring, either. Sometimes, you eat the bear. Sometimes, the bear eats you. We fully expect Barzal to make plays in this series, but it is also true to say that his performance thus far has, at best, been…lackluster.
Sorokin had that look of Ken Dryden in 1971 early on, and couldn’t help but get this “here we go again” feeling, but as time went on and the Bruins kept peppering the rookie with shots, you couldn’t help be sense the tide was turning and the B’s would take over the game. Drafted in 2014 like Pastrnak, Sorokin is highly athletic and tracks pucks extremely well. The Bruins did a nice job to set screens and get him moving, also getting some favorable rebounds. Boston handed him his first playoff loss, but he’s going to be a tough out on any given night. Kid is legit.
Connor Clifton continues to have a strong playoffs. He just plays hard and is willing to do whatever it takes to keep the puck out of his own net. He did commit a bad turnover in front of his net early on, and those kinds of things can’t be repeated often without paying a price, but he provides energy and tenacity on the back end. He’s far more the sum of his parts, especially in the postseason.
There’s a lot more we could get to, but we’ll leave it here. 1 win in the books, but the Bruins need to work on their touches in their own end and make better puck management decisions to reduce the turnovers. The Islanders are well coached by Barry Trotz and his staff- hard-working and opportunistic- the B’s can’t keep giving up possession in their own end and expect it not to come back to bite them.
In the end, you couldn’t ask for a better start for the team in round 2, or a better night for the thousands who witnessed it inside the Garden and at the area watering holes and throughout the rest of the world.
The Boston Bruins won their fourth straight game Sunday in the opening round of the 2021 NHL Playoffs, winning 2 out of 3 games on the road to eliminate the Washington Capitals by a 3-1 score.
Led by captain and future first-ballot Hockey Hall of Fame tenant Patrice Bergeron (two goals) and Tuukka Rask (40 saves), the B’s made it look easy in a game that could have gone the other way.
After taking a 2-0 lead into the third period, Conor Sheary scored 11 seconds in to give his club some hope, but Bergeron answered later in the period with his second tally of the contest. Although Lars Eller appeared to have scored a few minutes later to pull the Caps again to within one, the goal was disallowed on the ice due to goalie interference by Evgeni Kuznetsov.
The game completed an impressive surge for the Bruins, needing overtime to win their first two contests of the series, but then handling business in wins 3 and 4 to finish them off.
The 2018 Stanley Cup champion Capitals, who took Game 1 in overtime on a Nic Dowd deflection goal, went out with a whimper. Few of the core members of that championship squad stepped up to accomplish much of anything in the series loss, leaving it to the bottom two lines and role players to get the bulk of Washington’s production.
It was bittersweet for many fans to see Zdeno Chara go through the handshake line wearing Washington red and seeing his 23rd NHL seasons come to an end. He was capable in the series, but not a difference-maker for the Capitals and the B’s had success by putting pucks behind him and forcing him to turn, skate and defend under pressure. It’s a shame he didn’t stay in Boston and was on the other side of the result, but at the same time- what’s the point in having such a debate? He opted to go where he felt he could have a bigger role, and the Bruins opted not to do what it took to keep him. Hockey is a business, and if you didn’t believe that, then look no further than what transpired between the B’s and their former captain. In the end, both positions should be respected, and in this case- Chara now gets to rejoin his family in Boston while his former teammates await their next opponent.
Here are some thoughts on the highlights and lowlights:
1. Tuukka Rask Boston’s wins leader dropped Game 1 and took heat for allowing the winning score, but was near-perfect the rest of the way, posting a .940 save percentage in the four victories and raising his career postseason save percentage to .927 (75 games minimum) in 98 career games, good for No. 1 in NHL history (for now). He’s healthy and has his patented swagger back. In Game 5, the Bruins were outshot by a wide margin, but he made it look easy. In his final two starts, he stifled the Caps at nearly every turn, and it was his ability to make the big saves in the overtime games 2 and 3 that allowed his club to take control of the series. We recognize that there are some out there who are simply never going to get on board with Rask, but in this case, we’re giving full credit where due.
2. Patrice Bergeron The captain presided over his first playoff series win with the Bruins wearing the ‘C’ and led by example by potting two goals, including the winner. Boston fans have been spoiled by his 18 years of excellence in the Black and Gold. Remember, he came in and made the team as an 18-year-old, looking like a seasoned veteran. That seems like a lifetime ago, and while he’s never put up an 80-point regular season, he’s been the model of consistency and success as this generation’s greatest two-way center who can do it all, even if he lacks the pure production of other NHL super stars. To put it another way, if you’re in overtime of a Game 7 final series for all the marbles, who do you want as your center over Bergeron? There aren’t many names you can come up with if you’re being intellectually honest in that exercise. The veteran who grew up in Quebec City admiring Joe Sakic, has cemented a similar legacy of greatness like his idol, all accomplished with the franchise that drafted him in 2003. His 44 postseason goals are the most among active players for the team, and his 115 points trail David Krejci by just two. For the record, Ray Bourque is the team’s all-time playoff scoring leader with 161 points, but Bergeron and Krejci have all surpassed franchise icons like Phil Esposito, Johnny Bucyk and Rick Middleton.
3. Charlie McAvoy As the series went on, Boston’s top defenseman asserted himself more and more. When he turns the wheel and plays his best hockey, he can impact the game positively in all zones. His three power play assists in Game 4 was instrumental in giving the Capitals a spirit-crushing loss and setting the stage for Game 5, and McAvoy’s ability to log big minutes in all situations makes him the latest in a long line of top blue liners who have worn the spoked B. He’s still prone to turning pucks over because he wants to push the envelope at times with more risk in his play than he should, but the aggression is good, and as the old saying goes, you can tame a tiger but you can’t paint stripes on a pussycat and expect it to rule the jungle. His next contract is going to be a big one, so get ready for that, but to the young former Boston University product’s credit, he’s earning it. Every top team needs a bell cow defenseman, and McAvoy stepped out of Chara’s shadow in this series to assume that responsibility. So far, so good.
4. Brad Marchand The 21st century version of Ken Linseman built a reputation with his antics, but in recent seasons toned his act down. When his abrasiveness threatened to cross the line and put his team at a disadvantage, Marchand pulled it together (assist to Bergeron, btw) and scored two critical goals to get his club back in control of the series. His three goals in 5 games led the B’s, but it speaks to his MVP-worthy season that he’s been able to keep the scoring going after finishing third in the regular campaign with 29 goals and 69 points in 53 games. His overtime one-timer in Game 2 came just 39 seconds into the extra frame and set a franchise record, breaking Bobby Orr’s famous flying Mother’s Day tally to win the Bruins the 1970 Stanley Cup. That alone deserves recognition on this list, but Marchand played hard, fast and put his team first when he had to. That’s a sign of his veteran maturity and ability to understand how fine a line it is, making sure he stayed on the right side of things to secure another series victory. With 98 career points, Marchand is close to joining Bergeron and David Krejci in the Playoff Century Club.
4. Taylor Hall Since the B’s acquired the 2010 first overall selection at the trade deadline, the team has gone 16-4-2 with No. 71 in the lineup. He scored what is arguably the biggest goal of the series late in the third period of Game 2 as the B’s were down 3-2 with the seconds ticking off the clock towards a crushing 0-2 series deficit. Then, Hall flashed his trademark speed to grab the puck and gain the offensive zone, flying past Washington’s top D John Carlson, and sending it to the front of the net. He then circled the cage, located the puck lying in the paint amidst player-induced chaos in the crease, and jammed at it until it went in. The speed, pace and skill Hall brings when he’s on top of his game is something not seen in Boston very often, and his presence has electrified the offense and second line. He didn’t always play his best hockey throughout the series, so there’s definitely room for improvement, but he came through in the clutch with a critical goal when his team needed it the most. It sure looks like the B’s will be able to find a way to extend the pending unrestricted free agent when the time comes (be patient- the expansion draft complicates things and stow the fast food mentality to get something done now). We’ll leave that to Don Sweeney and his capologist Evan Gold to sort out, but Hall is proving himself to be a valuable commodity, and the veteran is enjoying the kind of success he’s having as the right kind of fit at this stage of his professional career.
5. Connor Clifton When Jeremy Lauzon went out of the lineup early in the series with a hand injury suffered in Game 1, it opened the door for Clifton, who in his third playoff spring with the Bruins, has once again elevated his play when it matters most by eclipsing his up-and-down regular season performances. The small but speedy and physical New Jersey native drew the tough assignment of containing Alex Ovechkin and sent a message in his first game against No. 8, hitting him, disrupting his rhythm and blocking his shots. His stats line of no points in 4 games doesn’t tell the story, but Clifton was able to stabilize the left side and make an impact with his fast, hard play. He shined in Game 4 on one particular penalty kill when he blocked three big shots in the same sequence. Players love that stuff, and Clifton is clearly a big man trapped in a small man’s body. The ability to play your best hockey when the games get so much faster and tougher is the sign of a true competitor.
6. David Pastrnak After getting off to a sluggish start, Boston’s most skilled scoring forward racked up 4 points in his final two games, ending the series on the top with 6 points in 5 games. His goal to break the scoreless tie in the second period of Game 5 was a thing of beauty as he went through the legs to avoid Dowd, then beat defenseman Nick Jensen to the front of the net and tuck the puck inside the far post. Though Pastrnak struggled late in the season and his 20 goals in 48 games was well off his 48 goals in 70 from a year ago, he’s getting his confidence and swagger back. When Pastrnak is going, the B’s can skate with the best offensive clubs in the NHL because they have the speed and depth to do it.
7. Bruce Cassidy Let’s face it- the man can coach a hockey team. His winning percentage with the Bruins since taking over for Claude Julien in 2017 is north of .650, and his 2019 club came to within one victory of the ultimate prize. He’s a student of the game who has built a winning culture through structure, discipline/buy-in and by demanding accountability, starting with himself and his staff. He’s an astute game manager who made the right adjustments throughout the series and did a good job with handling injuries to the club throughout the season and the playoff carryover. He’s learned a great deal since failing with the Washington Capitals, so you know this series win felt so good for him to beat his old team. He wasn’t ready to be a NHL head coach when the Capitals hired him in 2002, but in the years since his firing in 2004 and when he got the Boston job 13 years later, he learned from his past experiences. Cassidy consistently presides over winning teams because he employs the right kind of structure, motivation and leadership. Coaching a professional hockey is no easy task if you expect to do it right and achieve top success, but one of the most important aspects of it is that the players will show up every night and play hard for you. That just doesn’t happen by being a nice guy- they have to respect your knowledge of the game, connect with you personally and believe that by buying in to your systems and methods, they will have the best chance at capturing a championship. Cassidy has done that in Boston, and the way his team took control of the series after a devastating Game 1 loss has reinforced his mettle behind the bench along with the contributions of his staff to the entire process.
8. Jake DeBrusk When the top guns were struggling to find their offense, it was DeBrusk who came forward. Although he didn’t sustain the scoring as Boston started racking up the wins, he used his speed and played with energy and effort to be a disruptive force, create chances and back check with authority to prevent opportunities on his own net. It hasn’t been a good year for him, but instead of pouting and continuing to be a black hole, the 23-year-old put up a respectable 2 goals and 3 points while showing he can be an effective 200-foot player when he sets his mind to it. That, more than anything, could be a key factor in getting his career back on the rails after his confidence took a big hit.
9. Ilya Samsonov The Russian rookie showed why he was a first-round pick a few years ago by playing hard and keeping the Bruins from turning the series into a blood bath on the scoreboard in Games 3 and 4. He has tremendous ability, though he did whiff on Bergeron’s first goal of Game 5- a shot he needed to stop. His ability to move laterally and locate/track pucks is elite. On the downside, Samsonov reportedly got into some hot water with his off-ice conduct, landing him in COVID-19 jail, which hurt his standing with his team and fans a bit. However, in watching him from a pure hockey standpoint, as he matures and gains experience, he will make the Capitals a better team in the net if he can maintain his focus and learn from mistakes.
1. Nicklas Backstrom The long time superstar center was, to put it mildly, putrid in this series and in his last two playoff years, has produced just two assists in 10 games. It isn’t just the lack of scoring- he was on the perimeter a lot and looked and played soft. For a player of his caliber, that is unacceptable, and barring some kind of injury he’s dealing with the Capitals and their fans are right to demand accountability from him for two years of no-shows after being such a critical cog in that machine for so long.
2. Evgeni Kuznetsov In a word, gross. This player is far too talented to put up the zero of a performance he did. From missing the first two games because of being in COVID protocol, to barely making a ripple on the pace and flow of the games as the series went on, going pointless. He had a poor year overall, and looked at times like he was just punching the time card. All of this from a guy who had 32 points the year the Capitals won it all. It looks like his days in Washington may be numbered, as the team and GM Brian MacLellan may decide to go in a different direction in building the next roster.
3. Peter Laviolette If Cassidy showed you what right looked like in a coach, Laviolette’s performance in his first playoffs with the Capitals was found to be…wanting. For whatever reason, he was unable to get top performances out of his best players, and it showed in the lackluster power play and the inability for Laviolette to get what had been the third-best PP unit in the regular season going with any kind of consistency. The reality is- if that power play is even half as better than it was, with all the penalties the Bruins took, it could have been a whole different series. Whatever the reason, the perception from afar was that his team just wasn’t in synch and following the program. The Franklin, Mass. product is a winning coach with one ring in Carolina and two more trips to the Stanley Cup final with the Flyers and Predators, but he looked overmatched and not up to the task in this one. To be honest, the team didn’t exactly do their part either.
4. Tom Wilson The NHL’s lightning rod has a world of talent, but diminishes himself with unnecessary self-sabotage instead of just playing the game hard…and the right way. Look, just about everybody respects hard skill and being tough to play against, and there’s no doubt that every team would love a Wilson on their roster, but this playoff version scored the first goal, and then went largely MIA, unless he was doing things that were either cheap/unwarranted or hurt his team. Unlike Marchand, Wilson has yet to figure out that he needs to let his offensive play do the talking rather allowing himself to become a distraction by being…offensive. And the Capitals as an organization have their own role to play as enablers- from the GM and coaches to even the social media staff- they have encouraged Wilson’s buffoonery, instead of realizing that when focused and on his game, he’s a lethal weapon, and getting him to play more of a ‘we’ game than a ‘look at me’ game. Wilson needs to step back and look in the mirror at the farce of a player he ended up being in this series, but so should the rest of the Caps- they allowed it to happen.
5. Boston Bruins team discipline A largely ineffective Washington power play prevented a closer-run series, but the B’s on the whole are going to have to clean up their penalty game going forward. Sure, some of the calls went from silly (Marchand’s roughing call in Game 5) to egregious (Washington getting a PP after Wilson cross-checked Nick Ritchie from behind after Charlie Coyle’s goal in Game 4), but that doesn’t change the fact that too many penalties that went against the B’s were self-inflicted through lapses in attention and discipline. Fans have been watching this team long enough to know that Boston doesn’t often get the benefit of the doubt from officials, so the players will have to put extra attention in avoiding the lazy stick fouls from not moving their feet, control their lumber so as not to draw high-sticking infractions and generally do a better job of staying out of the box. The penalty killing units (led by Rask) did their job, but its going to catch up with them in the next round if it continues.
6. Nick Ritchie Let’s face it- he’s capable of a lot more and the team needs it from the ‘Big Rig.’ He did have a glittering scoring chance in Game 5 on a between-the-hashmarks laser that Samsonov picked up and stopped as he slid laterally to absorb the puck in his pants, but other than a deflected shot on the PP off him and into the net in Game 1, Ritchie didn’t get a whole lot accomplished despite a respectable 3 points in the 5 games. He’s got to get to the net more often and with greater urgency and authority. When he drives the net, he’s a load to contain and with his hands and ability to finish plays in tight spaces, the chances will be had if he turns the wheel more.
7. David Krejci This is not a knock on Krejci, as there were times he showed his experience and made some savvy plays offensively and defensively. But there were a few examples where he was off in his play, especially handling passes cleanly on the PP and protecting the puck in tight spots like he so often does. The purpose of putting him here in the down section is not to criticize, but to point out that the Bruins won four games in a row without much of a contribution from No. 46. We all know that his best hockey comes out in the spring months, so this is an acknowledgement of that and the fact that for the B’s to keep advancing in the postseason, they will need more out of their No. 2 center.
We could go on, but time to leave it here.
The Bruins will now get some time to rest, heal and await their next opponent, be it the Pittsburgh Penguins or New York Islanders.
For more insights on the Bruins/NHL and hockey in general, follow me on Twitter at @kluedeke29
Dominic Tiano is back with his assessment of how the Boston Bruins defense has played through one quarter of the 2021 NHL season. Enjoy!- KL
When ToreyKrug signed with the St Louis Blues and ZdenoChara ultimately decided to sign with the Washington Capitals, there was nothing but unanswered questions surrounding the Boston Bruins blue line for the 2020-21 National Hockey League season.
Who was going to replace Krug on the powerplay? Who is going to replace the offense from the blue line? Who was going to replace Chara on the penalty kill? Who was going to shut down the opposition’s top lines? Who was going to replace Chara’s leadership? It was question after question after question, and when you tried to answer them, fans didn’t like the answers.
We are officially at the quarter-way point of the season, so this is a good sample size to look at how the young defense has performed thus far.
The 2019-20 President’s Trophy winners dressed ten different defensemen and they combined for a total of 32 goals and 112 assists in the 70-game shortened season.
This season, the Bruins have dressed eight defensemen and only because of the injuries to MattGrzelcyk and have scored 3 goals and 21 assists. That projects to 12 goals and 84 assists for the season. Pro-rated over 70 games, that is 15 goals and 105 assists. The helpers are fine, but they are on pace to score half of what last year’s blue line did and despite the 10-2-2 start, it could be a problem moving forward.
Last season, the Bruins had the third best penalty kill with an 84.19% success rate Mostly on the backs of Chara and BrandonCarlo. To date this season, the Bruins rank second with an 88.0% success rate largely on the backs of Carlo and JeremyLauzon. They are backed up by CharlieMcAvoy and KevanMiller, with Lauzon and Miller picking up the Chara minutes.
At the other end of the ice is where the loss of Krug was thought to be most impactful, especially the powerplay. Coach BruceCassidy has tried different things including five forwards at times. A year ago, with Krug manning the point, the Bruins had the second best powerplay in the league converting on 25.22% of their opportunities. This season they rank eighth but are converting on 27.27% of their chances, an increase of 2.02%. But they need a blueliner that can take the reigns there and the injuries to Grzelcyk don’t help. As we saw last against the Islanders, using 5 forwards can cost you.
The loss of Chara on the blue line, and Krug for that matter, takes away some leadership on the back end, but you can’t underestimate the leadership of Miller, now the grey-beard on the team. He can keep his teammates calm and cool under pressure. Not to mention the young guys stepping into the role. Carlo has over 300 games under his belt and Grzelcyk and McAvoy around 200. They will be counted on to take up some of the leadership slack left by Chara’s departure.
Cassidy and his coaching staff have also adjusted the system employed now that he has a more mobile unit on the backend. First off, they’ve tried to employ a more traditional shut-down defender with a puck mover on each pair, something that has worked so far.
Secondly, when defending, the defense has the green light for both guys to activate below their own goal line with the centerman usually covering the net in front of TuukkaRask or JaroslavHalak. Third, they all have the green light to skate out of the zone. And finally, because of the young legs, they can all activate at the offensive blue line and pinch down deep, something the coaching staff keeps encouraging them to do.
Coming into the season we preached how young this defense was going to be and that there would be growing pains. The growing pains have been evident, but not consistently and it has yet to hurt the team but, there is a long way to go.
Here’s a look at the Bruins defense, our Grade, and what we’ve seen so far:
CHARLIE MCAVOY Grade: A
I will be the first to admit it: Charlie McAvoy should be an A+. But for me, to earn an A+ you need to excel in every area of the game and McAvoy is doing that in every situation except one and that is the power play, although that is through no fault of his own. Cassidy prefers a left shot defender up top on the first unit which is why, when Grzelcyk is healthy, he gets those opportunities first. Cassidy has also used five forwards (at times) in the absence of Grzelcyk instead of McAvoy with David Krejci (who happens to be a right shot) at the point.
In the absence of Krug, McAvoy has taken his game to another level offensively. He is on pace to set career highs in goals, assists and points – all in just a 56-game schedule. He leads the team in assists and points, shot attempts and shots on goal and he can drive the offense from the back end like few others can.
It’s not just about offense though. He’s trusted to defend, almost always going up against the opposition’s top players. He kills penalties, he’s physical, he’s a one-man breakout machine and he easily leads his fellow blue liners in blocked shots with 29.
McAvoy is a minute eating defender who does it with quality. He leads the blue line averaging 24:19 in time on ice – 4:34 more per game than the next closest, his partner Lauzon. He leads them by a wide margin in even strength time on ice, exactly 20 minutes and he averages 2:09 in powerplay time and 2:14 in penalty kill time per game.
McAvoy will get some serious consideration for the Norris Trophy this season. Well deserved consideration. His time as a true number one defenseman in the NHL has arrived.
JEREMY LAUZON Grade: B
A lot of eyebrows were raised when it was suggested here, and the coaching staff gave Lauzon the duties of skating beside McAvoy. Has he disappointed anyone? Lauzon has been the steady defensive defenseman that can be relied upon and that in turn, gives McAvoy the opportunity to concentrate more on offense. He refuses to be outworked and leads his team in hits with 39.
He’s been winning the majority of his battles along the walls and in front of the net. Not only is he good at clearing his zone, he can make a good first pass as well and usually makes the right decisions. He’s become a staple in the penalty kill leading all Bruins blueliners in PK time on a PK that had an efficiency of 84.19% a season ago to 88.0% this season. The coaching staff is showing they are gaining more and more confidence in him and it is reflected in his average time on ice. Averaging 19:45 TOI, Lauzon trails only McAvoy at 24:19 in that department.
As we saw against the Washington Capitals on February 1, Lauzon does have some offensive abilities. Where the coaching staff used him mostly for defensive zone draws prior to that, they have been giving him more and more offensive starts lately, to the point where is starts are virtually even. Again, he trails only McAvoy in attempted shots on goal with 41 and shots on goal with 21 and Grzelcyk in percentage that get on goal with 51.2%.
MATT GRZELCYK Grade: B-
Playing in just one game in between two injuries has limited Grzelcyk to just six games on the season. Despite his size, we know what we get from him. Quick on his skates, retrieves pucks quickly and transitions even faster. Uses his positioning and his stick to defend well. His metrics across the board are very good and there is no denying that.
I know many people will question this grade but hear me out. Grzelcyk is suppose to be the guy to replace Krug on the point on the first powerplay unit. Six games just aren’t enough of a sample size to determine if he is that guy – yet. But if he is, then an A Grade is definitely on the horizon.
What we do know is Grzelcyk can sure pass and he can make smart plays. While he doesn’t posses the same kind of shot from the point that can beat a goaltender like Krug can, Grzelcyk shoots smartly. He likes to send pucks towards the goal and in just six games has directed 20 shots towards the net. A whopping 65% of those shots have reached the netminder. How good is that? Only one other defenceman is above 50% (Lauzon, 51.2%). Even McAvoy is firing at 46.4%.
That’s an important skill for a point man to have, especially since the Bruins appear to have found their permanent net front presence in Nick Ritchie. If Grzelcyk can come back and take the reigns and be effective on the powerplay, his grade can only go up.
BRANDON CARLO Grade: B
Carlo is quite simply one of the premier shut down defenders in the NHL. At 6’5” and over 210 pounds, he is a superb skater. Although he isn’t as physical as many fans want him to be, Carlo has some amazing strength that makes him a force in front of his goaltenders and a defender that the opposition doesn’t relish battling along the walls. He can go up against the oppositions best and paired with Lauzon on the penalty kill, form on of the better PK pairs in the NHL.
It’s noticeable that Carlo wants to be more involved in the offense and he has taken it upon himself to do just that. Carlo could very well surpass his career high of 19 points from a season ago, and do it in the shortened 56-game schedule.
Carlo has somewhat slowed that offensive down lately, largely due to the turnstile of partners he’s had, with little chance to get some chemistry going. He’s usually paired with Grzelcyk, but injuries have limited him to just 6 games. When the latter was out, it was with Clifton and then on what was a back-to-back situation, John Moore. And as mentioned, he is usually paired with Lauzon on the PK but also with Miller at times.
We fully expect that once Grzelcyk returns and Carlo gets a regular partner, that he will continue to push forward offensively.
JAKUB ZBORIL Grade: B-
Perhaps the growing pains are more evident in Zboril than any of the other d-men. And that is not a knock on him. He is the least experience of the group and the talent he possesses is clearly evident. But once in a while he might make you want to throw your remote through your 72” TV.
Again, they were expected to happen. But if you can set them aside for a moment and look at the good things, then we should be happy with what we are seeing. It’s true that Cassidy is somewhat sheltering him with the most offensive zone starts on the blue line at 63.4%, but the coach is also trying to get him accustomed to the NHL at the same time. When Lauzon was serving his 5 plus 10 with his fight in New York, Cassidy had no hesitation in throwing Zboril out there to kill a penalty. It’s in him, but it is evident the coach wants to take it slowly.
Cassidy is also willing to use Zboril on the powerplay and eventually, Zboril might just excel at it. He has an excellent shot from the point but he definitely needs to work on getting it through. He’s third among the blueliners with 36 attempted shots on goal, but is a team worst 36.1% getting it on the net, either missing the target or having it blocked. It’s not a matter of if, but when he gets better at that, good things will happen for him.
In his own zone, he’s good at retrieving pucks and transitioning, makes a good first pass, but more importantly, he can skate out of danger. He’s learning how strong NHL players are as compared to AHL players, but that to will come and some of the misfortunes he’s had will become less and less frequent.
KEVAN MILLER Grade: B-
When General Manager Don Sweeney inked Miller to his contract there was an uproar through Bruins Nation. Many eyebrows were raised and many questions were asked. Why sign Miller before Chara? Why sign a player that has not played in almost two years? And more importantly, why sign a player that is coming off of two major knee surgeries?
Well, 14 games into the season things have changed, and might I add, dramatically. In a poll I conducted on Twitter with over 500 hundred votes, Miller was the overwhelming choice by fans as the 7th Player Award winner to date with over 40% of the vote. (He was followed by Nick Ritchie with 28%)
However, it’s more than just being able to skate in 14 games when there was doubt (in the minds of fans) that he could not just play quality hockey, but play at all. Miller can play both sides of the ice with little difference when on his weak side. We’ve seen it a lot when paired with McAvoy on the second pair killing penalties. He’s physical and hits hard, trailing only Lauzon in hits with 30.
He’s a guy the coaches can depend on to defend a one goal lead in the last minute. He wins his battles along the walls and is hard to move. As we saw against the Rangers, down a man and the Rangers goaltender pulled for an extra attacker, Miller on his off side paired with Carlo, ate up a lot of the time remaining on the clock buy keeping the puck along the boards behind the goal line.
Despite Miller’s superb work on the PK and in key defensive situations, he and his usual partner in Zboril are getting some sheltered starts from Coach Cassidy, with over 61% of the pair’s zone starts being in the offensive zone.
CONNOR CLIFTON Grade: B-
Cliffy Hockey, what can we say? If there is one player in the NHL that plays much bigger than 5’11” and 175 pounds, it’s Clifton. While Lauzon leads the team in hits, it’s actually Clifton that leads the squad in hits per game with 3.3. He plays physical, he can defend and he can skate. He’s pretty underrated in some circles as a puck carrier, but he can move the puck. And he will stand up for a teammate.
Clifton doesn’t get much specialty team time on ice. The coaching staff use him primarily in 5 on 5 situations, but when one of the other d-men are in the box, they have no hesitation in using him on the PK.
It’s hard to imagine that on many teams he wouldn’t be a starter in the top six. For now, he is the 7th defenseman on this squad who will see time when someone goes down with an injury or is in need of a break.
With Clifton what you see is what you get: 100% effort on every shift, accountability and determination. You couldn’t ask for more from a player in his spot.
John Moore was left off the list because one game just isn’t enough to grade him on, even though he had a very good first game of the season against the Islanders.
We’ve sometimes repetitively said there would be growing pains with this young defence. And there has been on any given night one guy is not at his best. What we haven’t seen is those growing pains as a group. When one is struggling, the other five pick up the slack, and that is part of the reason they sit 10-2-2 one-quarter of the way through the season.
We’re back with a quick hitter on some of the current Bruins on the roster and where we see things as Oliver Ekman-Larsson rumors are picking up steam, Torey Krug appears to be moving on and big changes are on the horizon.
These may constitute unpopular opinions, but what the heck- today’s as good a day as any to shake the trees a bit!
Overrated: Brandon Carlo
OK- we’re not out to dump on the guy, but watching Bruins fans twist themselves into knots over discussions about him being involved in trade talks like he’s some kind of untouchable player is a bit much. He’s a good, solid defensive defenseman. But here’s the thing- can he run a PP? Nope. Not special. In fact, he’s comparable to former Bruin Kyle McLaren– a nice complementary piece, but not a driver you refuse to consider trade offers for. Our fear is that his/his agent’s ask on the next contract negotiation process will shift him from being a good value player to exceeding that current bargain rate/savings, and that’s a problem. By the way- 0 goals, 1 assist in 13 playoff games…sorry, but that’s not worth the wailing and gnashing of teeth we’re seeing on Twitter and elsewhere. Newsflash- Carlo is a good right-shot D with size/mobility and so when Don Sweeney calls teams to talk trade options, his name is going to come up. It doesn’t mean the B’s are shopping him, but it also does not mean the team refuses to consider moving him if the return is right. Besides, relax guys- reports are that the Boston GM has politely but firmly rebuffed the Carlo ask thus far- we don’t expect he’s going anywhere…for now.
Underrated: Jeremy Lauzon
Since the days when Adam McQuaid displaced 2003 1st-rounder Mark Stuart on the Boston roster because his cap hit (at the time) was significantly lower, the Bruins have done a nice job of finding bargain defenders who come in and round out the club’s blue line depth at a low rate, while working their way up in the lineup. Lauzon is the latest ‘D’ to step into the breach, as the 2015 2nd-rounder is a hard-nosed, tough-to-play against type who moves well and has made some skill plays against the backdrop of a modest offensive output. No, he’s not 6-5 like Carlo is, but at some point, if the latter prices himself out of feasibility for the B’s, Lauzon is a player who could come in and assume a similar defensive role. Granted- Carlo is a right-shot and Lauzon is a lefty, but we’ve seen him play on the right side in the past and he’s capable of doing it, even if many coaches prefer to build L-R defensive pairings. Lauzon’s pro production is comparable to that of Carlo, and he comes in at a fraction of the cost. You obviously want to keep both in the lineup, but that’s going to be up to the guy who’s making almost $3M now and will probably be looking for $4.5-5 on his next deal in 2021. Besides, if you’re not crazy about Lauzon being up to the task, don’t forget Connor Clifton, who doesn’t have Carlo’s pure size or shutdown ability, but can fly and plays with real jam. And…he’s a righty.
Overrated: Jake DeBrusk
Look, when he’s on his game and scoring, everyone loves DeBrusk- he plays with a speed and infectious energy that is easy to fall in love with. And there is no denying that he’s scored some pretty big goals for the B’s since he broke in as a full-time player in 2017-18. However, he’s proving to be a streaky scorer and the simple question we would pose to those who don’t agree that he’s overrated is: when he isn’t scoring, what exactly is he doing out there? It’s an old hockey coach’s saw that if a player’s scoring touch dries up, then the one-dimensional guys will be the first to take a seat and ride the pine if they don’t bring something else to the table. This is why players like Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand are so valuable (and are paid accordingly)- they make an important impact when they aren’t generating offense. Even the most ardent DeBrusk supporter would have a hard time denying that you have to look for him when he’s not scoring (unless they’re a little deluded, that is). So, JDB has got to find a way to expand his game and bring more value to the table when he’s not scoring goals off the rush…especially if he wants to get paid.
Underrated: Cameron Hughes
We think that the B’s are wasting the window of opportunity with Hughes by keeping him at center where there is a logjam and would be much better suited to trying him at wing, where he could use his speed and creativity to generate scoring at a bargain rate. Always smallish, slight and lacking in strength going back to his days with the AJHL’s Spruce Grove Saints and in the NCAA, the team knew it would be a longer process to get Hughes into the NHL, but he’s been pretty effective in the AHL thus far since turning pro out of the University of Wisconsin in 2018. Hughes isn’t a volume producer offensively, but he’s tallied some pretty unreal goals over the years, and it’s much easier to take a center and make him a wing versus the other way around. With another year on a deal that pays him under $800k, why not try him in the big lineup and see what happens?
Overrated: Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak
$9.25M invested in goaltending should give you more than the Bruins got in the 2020 playoffs.
We know that both can play, but with the way things went with Rask, can the team trust him to be there when they need him? And Halak, as valiant an effort as he gave, simply wasn’t good enough to make a difference against the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
It’s a lot of coin to have tied up in goaltending, and the Bruins are right to expect a better ROI. This is why no one should be surprised that trade rumors are starting to pick up around Rask. You can be opposed to the idea of moving him, but given that he’s in the final year of his contract, plus a track record of leaving the team and/or not being available at times, there should not be any kind of shock that his name is coming up at this stage.
Underrated: Jeremy Swayman
Give him some time, and a longer-term solution for the Bruins might be in house.
It would be foolish and unrealistic to think he can come in and challenge for a spot in Boston right away, but his NHL debut may not be that far away and if we’ve learned anything about the NCAA’s top goaltender, he has a proven record of performance at every level thus far, and should make a quick transition to the AHL.
Boston probably needs a temporary bridge in net this year and maybe next if they end up moving on from Rask, but Swayman is a player who should be closely watched going forward, along with dark horse prospect Kyle Keyser.
Matt Grzelcyk was Boston’s third-round selection at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. (Kirk Luedeke photo)
We’re back with notes and thoughts on the defensemen on the Boston Bruins playoff roster.
Practices are back underway and we’re getting input from multiple sources in attendance, plus our own analysis and even gut feelings about how things will play out when the round robin commences against Philadelphia on August 2.
We’ll continue with a look at the forwards tomorrow. -KL
Brandon Carlo- The first of three second-round picks in the 2015 draft is the most accomplished, having broken into the NHL at the tender age of 19 and now established as a proven defender with size, mobility and reach to keep opponents away from the prime scoring areas. The Colorado native keeps it simple, and he’ll never be a threat to the memory of Bobby Orr, but he’s highly effective and trusted in key defensive situations. He suffered a concussion just before the season got paused, so the B’s are getting Carlo when he’s healthy and clear-headed.
Help coming in the form of Brandon Carlo? Might be too much, too soon (Kirk Luedeke photo)
Zdeno Chara- Entering his 11th playoff season with the Bruins (he’s missed the dance just 3 times since he signed 14 years ago: 2007, 2015 and 2016), the captain is long in the tooth at age 43, but the time off just may have done wonders for his ageless machine. Always in tip-top shape, Chara is not dealing with the typical fatigue and body challenges that he faces as the league’s elder statesman. Now, the future Hall of Famer enters his 15th postseason, he’s rested and will likely have much more jump in his legs than we’re used to seeing each spring.
Even though he’s nowhere near the two-way defender he was in his prime and even 2013, when he established a career-best 15 postseason points at age 36, Chara’s experience, leadership and hardcore mindset make him an important asset for Boston’s blue line.
Connor Clifton- The 25-year old Arizona castoff who emerged a year ago in Boston’s run to the Stanley Cup final played in just 31 regular season games as he battled injuries, but he plays with speed, pace and bite. Although he’s under 6-foot in height, he’s always been a physical defender at every level, looking to level kill shots in open ice and playing like he was born with a chip on his shoulder. Because of his style and lack of natural size/thickness, he’s going to spend time on the IR, but Clifton provides superb depth for the B’s, and come playoff time, he elevates his game as his hypercompetitive drive kicks into high gear.
Matt Grzelcyk- Coming off a career-high 68 regular season games and 21 points, the Charlestown native and former Belmont Hill and BU star keeps getting better in the NHL. Always an elite skater, he’s gotten more adept at using his speed and smarts defensively, while building on his natural strength of moving pucks quickly out of his own end and being a big boon to the transition game. Grzelcyk has proven himself as a smaller D who provides a different dimension than Torey Krug does for the club, but the two have opened a lot of eyes around the league about the effectiveness they bring while not being carbon copies of one another. Grzelcyk’s success and emergence make him a potential expansion draft casualty a year from now, but after a solid 2019 postseason, he’s primed to have another big spring.
NEW YORK, NY – MAY 23: Torey Krug #47 of the Boston Bruins looks on against the New York Rangers in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 23, 2013 in New York City. The Rangers won 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Torey Krug- He would’ve been one of the big free agent prizes on July 1st, but the Bruins still have No. 47 on the roster for one more run after he came up short (no pun intended) in two final series appearances as a rookie in 2013 and a year ago. A badger on skates, Krug was denied a fourth consecutive 50+ point season with the pause, but with 49 in 61 games is still one of the top offensive blue liners in pro hockey and a registered lethal weapon with the man advantage. He’s got a cannon of a shot and always has his head up, looking to thread pucks through traffic to teammates in prime scoring areas. It has become vogue to knock Krug’s defensive play, but that’s a lazy argument that does not take into account his experience or smart stick and genuine drive to prove the doubters wrong. True, he won’t match up 1-on-1 the way his D partner Carlo does, but the beauty of it is- he doesn’t have to.
There’s a lot of talk that Krug won’t be wearing a spoked B when the next season kicks off, but for now- he’s fully on board for one last hurrah if that’s what it will be. Those of us who have watched him flourish and grow after being the best college free agent signing of the decade eight years ago tend to believe that the B’s will find a way to bring him back into the fold, but if it is not to be, then Krug will be at his best for this playoffs.
Jeremy Lauzon- One of two defenders drafted in 2015’s second round (Carlo), Lauzon is on the verge of stepping out and into a full-time NHL role going forward. He has been paired with Grzelcyk on the team’s second day of return to play camp, and he’s a good partner for the smaller, more fleet-of-foot veteran. Lauzon can skate and defend and embraces the physical side of things, though he’s not as mobile or skilled as Grzelcyk. He can move pucks effectively enough, but has enough jam to balance the pairing.
Lauzon isn’t going to put up a lot of points, but he’s a smart, capable player who is versatile enough to chip in with a timely goal or assist, but is more valuable as a hard-to-play against defender who led the 2015-16 Rouyn-Noranda Huskies to a .776 regular season winning percentage and captured the QMJHL championship and a Memorial Cup run. He’s a winner.
Charlie McAvoy- Okay, we’re just going to say it: McAvoy is Boston’s best defenseman. He might not be that guy fully completely (to coin a phrase from the Tragically Hip- RIP Gord Downie) but he’s getting there fast. Granted, the critics- and there are a few out there- will point to McAvoy’s lack of high-end production, low contribution to the PP and turnovers as reasons that he’s not a top NHL defender, but we disagree. At age 22, McAvoy is far from a finished product, and we have 100% confidence that he will develop into a franchise cornerstone in the not very distant future. He’s no Ray Bourque, but in the modern age of hockey, he’s a perfect fit as a top 2-way defender because he can motor, has excellent vision but most importantly- has the aggressive mindset to make plays at both ends of the rink. Yes, he’ll push the envelope at times and turn pucks over, but coaches would much rather tame a wild colt than try to paint stripes on a pussycat. McAvoy is a tiger and we think he’s the one x factor on this blue line who could emerge in dramatic fashion this spring.
He’s the one the Bruins are going to have to invest in when his contract is up and he’ll be worth it. The fun part will be in watching him get there, and we’ll all have to take the good with the bad. The good will far outweigh the negatives- we’re positive that’s true. He does so many of the things you just can’t teach, and when you watch the dynamic plays he makes out there that may not look like much at first glance, you realize the B’s have something special on their hands. Brilliant pick at 14th- he’s so much better than most thought he’d be and the best part of all is that he’s only getting better.
John Moore- It’s been a tough couple of seasons for the player the B’s signed at term (five years) and value ($2.75M cap hit) to perhaps mitigate future losses to expansion while rolling the dice on him hitting an extra gear as he entered his prime. So far, that plan has not come to fruition. The former 21st overall pick in 2009 is already with his fifth NHL team and is one of those players who typically gets traded a lot over the course of a pro career: he brings enough value to be wanted, but isn’t impactful enough to be a core guy who establishes himself in one location. He played his best hockey with the moribund New Jersey Devils before signing- a good player on a bad team. Since signing in Boston, Moore hasn’t been able to carve a niche for himself on the B’s blue line and had an injury-plagued 19-20 campaign. He’s good depth at this point, but with his cap hit and others at much lower cap figures like Clifton and Lauzon on the roster, Moore’s future with the B’s is uncertain.
Urho Vaakanainen- The first-round pick in 2017 didn’t have the greatest season in Providence, but will benefit from being around the team for the playoffs and practicing/being immersed in the culture. A mobile, defense-first player, he’s more of a high-floor type, and hopefully, he can overcome the setbacks of an elbow to the face by Ottawa’s Mark Borowiecki in 2018-19, and a lackluster 2019-20 campaign to take steps forward in his third North American pro season. It will be interesting to compare his poise and presence at the practices with that of fellow rookie Jakub Zboril.
Jakub Zboril- Boston’s first selection in 2015 has been passed by Carlo and Lauzon, but we’re still holding out hope that he can make the Boston roster in 20-21. With his size and skill package, Zboril is coming off of his most consistent and successful AHL season with Providence. Being around the Bruins as a black ace and extra will set the conditions for him to finally take that next step, but if not, there is probably another team out there willing to give him a shot. Still, given Boston’s time, energy and patience invested, we’d like to see it work out with Zboril in the Black and Gold. He’s not the player they hoped for, but he can still be a serviceable depth guy.
As expected, the Boston Bruins played on the margins during the NHL’s annual free agent derby July 1, re-signing defenseman Connor Clifton to a three-year pact at a $1M per annum cap hit along with Ryan Fitzgerald (pictured) to a 2-way contract valued at $700k for one year. From the outside of things, the B’s added bottom-line forwards Par Lindholm (Jets and Maple Leafs) to a 2-year NHL deal valued at $850 k per, and Brett Ritchie (Stars) to a 1-year, $1 million contract. The B’s also signed 2012 1st-round forward Brendan Gaunce (Canucks) to a 2-way (700k cap hit) deal, 2011 4th-round defenseman Josiah Didier (Canadiens) to an AHL contract and free agent goalie Maxime Lagace (Golden Knights) 2-way (700k cap hit) to bolster their AHL depth.
Clifton was a no-brainer after his emergence in the Stanley Cup playoffs and to lock him up for 3 years at that price is excellent value. It’s nice to see the local Fitzgerald get another shot to find his way to the Big B’s after being a fourth-round pick in 2013, but the scouts were concerned about his overall speed/pace game and how it would translate to the NHL, and thus far, he’s still fighting to break through.
The B’s also saw their first casualty of the free agency period, as grinder Noel Acciari came to terms on a 3-year/$5 million contract with the Florida Panthers. It’s only a matter of time before we find out where Marcus Johansson will end up, but it won’t be back in Boston.
While the groans in some fan circles are audible- most knowledgeable fans understand that given the current cap situation facing Don Sweeney, there simply wasn’t any room for spending sprees on the open market, especially with three key restricted free agents needing extensions in Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Danton Heinen. The only hope for some additional coin to spend here in July of 2019 was for the B’s to somehow off-load David Backes and the 2 years remaining on his $6M cap hit. Since the deal signed in 2016 was front-loaded, Backes’ contract is appealing to teams looking to get to the cap floor whose operating budgets are lower than the richer teams in that the cap hit is higher than the money owed, but it’s easier said than done. Of course, with other teams around the league moving bad contracts, it’s natural for B’s fans to want the same- it always takes two to tango and the team is notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to behind-the-scenes negotiations, so good luck finding out what if any overtures were made in this regard. Barring a trade of some fashion, whether Backes or somewhere else on the roster, there simply wasn’t any money to spend on over-priced free agents. And there won’t be much to handle next year’s more challenging roster turbulence.
Fast food mentality ain’t gonna work here, folks- instead of being envious of the huge contracts being handed out around the league today, set your sights to 2020 and the longer game. It never ceases to amaze that so many of the nimrods out there clamoring for the B’s to be players in an annually inflated free agent market will be the first to turn on the GM when said player(s) don’t live up to their big cap numbers. Truth in lending- TSP was bullish on Backes three years ago in the face of some pointed criticisms elsewhere. In hindsight, the fears (at the time) have come to fruition- there’s not much tread left on the tire, and Backes, as tremendous a character/glue guy as he is, hamstrings the B’s for two more years at $6M per. Teams are better to invest in their own players and leave the madness of the UFA market to others who will be doomed to repeat history because they aren’t learning from it.
Think of all the NHL teams today who worked so hard to clear cap space only to fill it up again. Now, in some cases- the signings look smart and should pay dividends (Lehner- CHI; Donskoi- COL; Hartman- MIN; Perry- DAL; Spezza- TOR to name a few). Others are courting major disaster (Bobrovsky- FLA 10M cap hit? For 7 years?? Wow!!; Stralman- FLA; Zuccarello- MIN; Hayes- PHI delayed reaction from 19 June signing & Erik Karlsson’s big pay day as he approaches 30 with a lot of wear and tear on his slight frame). But, if we’ve learned one thing over the past several years, there always seems to be a GM or three out there who will bail some of their spendthrift counterparts out by taking on the remainders of bad contracts handed out on credit.
We learned the lesson with Backes- character matters, but up to a point. You have to balance that with a more realistic assessment of your ROI- return on investment. We all wanted Backes to be successful in Boston, but the warning signs were there. In the end, he’s a player more suited to the NHL of yesteryear…it sucks to say it, but as some predicted three years ago, that contract is, in fact, an albatross. And we’ll have to see what the B’s are able to do about it with 24 more months left on the term.
Now, on to the new guys:
Center Par Lindholm spent the season between Toronto and Winnipeg after signing with Toronto a year ago, and the move makes sense if you believe the rumors that the B’s are shopping Joakim Nordstrom.
Lindholm is an intelligent 200-foot pivot with a wealth of Swedish pro experience, but didn’t play much in his first North American season in the NHL. He’s not a dynamic offensive player and more of a Swiss Army Knife/Jack of All Trades type. He typically played less than 10 minutes a game for the Leafs and Jets, so if you noticed him much, then you’re a far better judge of talent than we are.
We’ll chalk this one up as a wait-and-see kind of addition, as it smacks of a set-up for something else to happen on the roster…otherwise, color us perplexed as to where this player fits in the B’s lineup when all is said and done.
Brett Ritchie comes to the B’s from the only organization he ever knew- the Dallas Stars- who drafted him in the second round of the 2011 lottery. Interestingly enough, when the rumors of Tyler Seguin being dealt to Dallas first came to light, we (that is Kirk) thought that Ritchie might have been one of the prospect pieces included in that ill-fated trade that is coming up on 6 years old.
We’d like to say that the 26-year-old is on the verge of busting out, but the reality is- he’s a big-bodied (6-4/220) forward who never really developed into the player he looked like he could be in his draft season with the OHL’s Niagara Ice Dogs. While not a bad skater, he has trouble separating and is at his best when his team has possession in the offensive zone and he can get to quiet ice/doesn’t have to win footraces to loose pucks.
Posting a career 0.22 points-per-game average with the Stars in 241 career contests (plus 3 playoff games), Ritchie has always had decent possession numbers in Dallas, and looks to be the kind of player at even strength that the B’s are trying to bring in to improve their overall 5v5 play. The problem is- because they don’t have a lot of money to spend in free agency this summer, they’re forced to bring in a low-end producer like Ritchie who fits that heavy, hard-to-play-against style the team loves in its forwards, but simply doesn’t have the production to indicate that he will suddenly find a scoring touch in Boston.
We suppose the B’s could do worse here, but we hope they will find a way to do better! Ritchie is a role player and not much more than that- 1 year and $1M isn’t going to break the bank, but since posting a career-best 16 goals in 2016-17, he’s only managed 11 total in the last 124 games/ two campaigns. He’s an offensive upgrade on Acciari, but not by much- what is the real play here as it pertains to the B’s roster?
Brendan Gaunce is like Ritchie-light…he was Vancouver’s 1st-round pick in 2012, selected just after the B’s drafted his Belleville (OHL) teammate Malcolm Subban…and he was a guy we had time for as a Bruins draft option that year. Big and has some skill with a high motor and leadership, Gaunce, who was once the 2nd overall selection of the Bulls in the OHL draft, has been an utter disappointment at the NHL level.
He’s the classic looks like a player prospect who didn’t ever develop into one despite a willingness to drive the net and compete/be effective on the walls and on the cycle. He’s not a snarly, in-your-face physical type and ultimately, that plus a lack of skill to establish himself on the top-two lines in Vancouver spelled the end for him in his first NHL organization. He’s going to be a good add in Providence, and his NHL ceiling might be that of a Tim Schaller if he can somehow get his foot in the door, but even that’s probably a stretch.
Max Lagace and Josiah Didier– The B’s needed a minor league veteran to replace Zane McIntyre, who left the B’s to sign with the Canucks after being drafted by Boston in 2010.
Lagace has 17 career games in the NHL all with Vegas, and was pressed into emergency duty in 2017-18 when the Knights went through an unbelievable rash of injuries at the goaltender position. He’s not an NHL regular but will provide good insurance down in the AHL, as Providence probably can’t afford to hand the keys to a Daniel Vladar/Kyle Keyser tandem and needs a third/emergency goalie to backfill the second season of Tuukka Rask/Jaroslav Halak.
Didier, who was a 4th-round project pick out of the USHL’s Cedar Rapids Rough Riders by Montreal in 2011 and played for current Dallas HC Jim Montgomery at the University of Denver, just won a Calder Cup with the Charlotte Checkers in the AHL and is another experienced winner who will bolster the Providence blue line and help Boston’s younger players develop.
The final word: The real value to the Bruins will come when their key RFA’s sign. Don’t cry for the big name UFAs, Argentina…the truth is- they were never really in play for Boston.
Everyone likes their shiny new toys and wants their favorite team to be in the mix to get the name guys on July 1st, but in most cases, the big spenders are left with a serious case of buyer’s remorse. Last year, Sweeney hit the middle tier market and did well, but you can’t step up to the plate year after year and pay market prices for the talent out there and expect to keep the real gems in your organization.
It’s like a high interest credit card- you get some immediate satisfaction in the form of landing a brand name that the hockey media will buzz about, but in 3-4 years, who did that phat free agent contract cost you, and was it worth it?
Something tells us that Sweeney knows that, and also realizes he will have to find another route to upgrading the second-line right wing. How soon it happens and what form the next addition(s) takes is sure to dominate social media from here on, but anyone who knows how the cycle goes in the NHL understood that the B’s weren’t going to make waves today…whether they moved Backes or not.
As for Acciari, he came to his childhood favorite team as an undrafted free agent and did a solid job on the fourth line. He represents decent but not good value for the Panthers, but the reality is- they need more guys like the former Providence College captain, whereas the Bruins have more than enough of those players already. We wish him well as he moves on to his new team and a solid payday.
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.
You mean to tell us that since two critical veterans went down with significant injuries, the Bruins are 3-0-2 with 8 points out of 10?
And that, dear readers, is why they play the games.
Given the Boston Bruins’ recent run of wins, welcome news despite not having two of the franchise’s faces out for at least 4 weeks or longer: captain Zdeno Chara and defacto captain Patrice Bergeron. The duo of future Hockey Hall of Famers are more than likely at the top of a short list of players that if you polled fans before the season, were the guys the team could least afford to lose for extended stretches of the 2018-19 campaign.
And yet, as the Thanksgiving weekend comes to a close, the B’s pulled out two close wins, a 2-1 OT contest against the underachieving Pittsburgh Penguins at home on Friday and then Saturday night’s 3-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens, helping Boston secure the sixth-best record in the NHL to date. Of course, few would have guessed that the Jeff Skinner-led Buffalo Sabres would be sitting atop the league standings as November comes to a close, but that’s a story for another day.
In the meantime, let us focus on the Bruins and how they’ve put themselves in position to remain competitive despite suffering through some personnel setbacks that would cripple many teams in any league.