Ask the Amigos: Quarantine Blues version

We’re ba-aaaaaack!

With everything that is going on with the Coronavirus and its impacts around the globe, we thought we’d get the band back together for a reunion to take advantage of the extra time many of us now find we have.

Here’s the chance to ask Dom, Reed & myself questions about hockey- the paused 2019-20 NHL season, B’s, prospects (lots to talk about here with recent signings), pretty much anything what you want covered, we’ll try to blow into. We want to do what we can to provide some content and help maybe take the minds off of the larger issues going on. Our minds…and yours.

Just post a comment to this post with your comment and first name/location where you are, and we’ll try to address it in a future audio file. We will also take questions via DM on Twitter if you’d rather go that route by sending your question to the amigo of your choice.

We will close questions at 9 a.m. (Central) time on Thursday, March 26, and the podcast will drop on Friday.

Analysis: Nick Wolff Then & Now

The Boston Bruins got their guy, it appears.

University of Minnesota-Duluth senior captain and left-shot defenseman Nick Wolff signed a 1-year entry-level contract with the B’s this week after four seasons with the Bulldogs. The former Eagan High School standout who spent a couple of seasons in the USHL playing for the Des Moines Buccaneers before heading to the NCAA attended the previous two Bruins development camps and had turned down other opportunities a year ago to return to Brighton. Given his close friendship with college teammate Karson Kuhlman, it seemed fait accompli that Wolff would sign with Boston if they wanted him, and so this was expected.

Here’s the breakdown on what Wolff brings to the table and what fans might expect from him going forward.

Nick Wolff then:

July 2019 (TSP Development camp recap)- Two-time NCAA champion with the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs is big and a nasty, tough competitor who helped anchor a suffocating defense in the NCHC last season. He’s massive at 6-4, and the skating isn’t a strength (especially when Scott Perunovich is flying around the same ice), but he’s a smart defender who uses his size, strength and stick effectively. The assistant captain from 2018-19 was rumored to be considering turning pro in the spring, but opted to return for his senior season, and he should sign a pro contract in the spring of 2020. Wolff attended B’s development camp a year ago and despite numerous offers by other teams opted to return to Boston in 2019. He’s a throwback type…if you liked Adam McQuaid, Wolff is a guy you’ll have time for as a defense-first, physical, hard-to-play against glue role D.

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Analysis: Jeremy Swayman Then & Now

The Boston Bruins announced a couple of NCAA/college player signings this week, coming to terms with 2017 fourth-round selection and University of Maine/Hockey East Player of the Year Jeremy Swayman along with undrafted free agent University of Minnesota-Duluth senior defenseman Nick Wolff on three-year  and one-year entry-level contracts.

Going to break the analysis into a then and now, as both players have been talked about on TSP, so we can see what was said before and where we are in the near year since they were both last mentioned in a writeup of Bruins development camp in July.

So here’s the skinny on what we think about Swayman and Wolff, starting with the 111th selection three years ago in Chicago. We’ll follow up with a separate blog post breaking down the Wolff signing and what B’s fans can expect from him going forward.

Jeremy Swayman then:

July 2019- He’s a fourth round pick attending his third development camp, so naturally, more was expected of the Maine Black Bear, and he delivered. We talked to one Hockey East assistant coach whose team has been stymied by Swayman’s play in the last two seasons, so there is a lot here in terms of natural size, ability and the mental toughness to keep his team in games while playing in such a competitive conference. In Boston this past week, Swayman showed that he’s continuing to progress in his development and growing as a goaltender as he gains experience and fills out. Between Swayman and Kyle Keyser, the B’s have a couple of goalie prospects who are not high draft picks. Daniel Vladar was a 3rd-rounder in 2015 and is still hanging around, but his development has been slower and there were always some concerns with Vladar’s overall game, particularly in the areas of how he reads the play/sees the ice. Swayman appears to have the edge right now and it will be interesting to see where he is in his progression when he signs and turns pro.

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Happy Birthday to the Greatest One

Today is Bobby Orr’s 72nd birthday- born March 20, 1948 in Parry Sound, Ontario.

My friend from New Brunswick, Ian Wilson, celebrates Robert Gordon Orr’s birthday every year and has been doing so ever since I got to know him online 22 years ago. I have no doubt Ian’s been toasting Bobby Orr Day long before I knew him, and as long as he draws breath in this world, every March 20 will be the same.

I never saw Orr play live…at least not that I remember. I wasn’t yet 4 when he left Boston and signed with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1976, but by being a student of the game and watching endless clips of Orr’s glory years with the Bruins, I’m comfortable with calling him the greatest hockey player of all in my own opinion. After all, there are a lot of smart hockey people out there who played with him, played against him, saw him…and if they say he’s the greatest hockey player who ever lived, then who am I to disagree?

Wayne Gretzky revolutionized scoring and there will never be another one like him- there was so much that came together at the right time for the Great One to score the zillions of points he did with the Edmonton Oilers in the early 1980’s- that firewagon hockey that he exemplified will not be seen again. The goalies are much better today than ever, and that isn’t going to change. Different era, different game.

But Orr was in a class of his own in terms of how he redefined the way the defense position was played- he didn’t just perform- Orr revolutionized the entire concept of how defenders could join the rush and be as dangerous on offense as they could shut down scoring chances in their own end. Those words to describe what Orr did for the game seem so paltry and inadequate to capture the kind of effect No. 4 had on hockey. In the end, Orr changed the game. Scorers will come and go, and I’ll not take anything away from that- Gretzky owns the all-time record for career goals and Alexander Ovechkin may or may not ever break that one…but for me, Mike Bossy was the best pure goal scorer I ever saw. And that includes Mssrs. Gretzky, Ovechkin, Mario Lemieux and Brett Hull. No one can ever “win” the debate- there are those who will effectively argue for their respective player. As for me, I’ll take Orr…please and thank you.

The world-renowned Spittin’ Chiclets podcast recently had Orr’s close friend and teammate Derek Sanderson on their show and the ever-colorful Turk had some terrific recollections of Orr. One of the best was when he said that he never saw anyone get the puck away from Orr when he had it…ever. And Sanderson is not exaggerating in the slightest. If you haven’t heard that episode, get going already…

As great as Orr’s eight consecutive Norris Trophies, 2 Stanley Cup championships, 2 Conn Smythe trophies as playoff MVP and Hall of Fame resume is, the sad thing is that we never really saw what he was capable of. Years of playing through serious knee injuries and deteriorating joints took an immeasurable toll on what might have been if Orr had the durability and staying power of someone like Ray Bourque.

What’s amazing about Orr’s accomplishments as a Bruin is that he did it from age 18-28. He left the city and team in his prime, though was fated to play only 26 more career games in the Windy City before his ravaged knees forced him to walk away from the game as a player forever.  There would be no miracle comebacks for Orr, though had he played several decades later, he might’ve had a 15-20 year career…we’ll never know.

Orr is firmly cemented on Boston’s Mount Rushmore of sports icons and no one will ever take his place.

But don’t take my word for it- just watch him for yourselves. I’ve chosen these videos because they will give you a close look at the man…in his own words, as well as those of others who knew him best, competed against him and knew better than anyone what he was accomplishing for the sport.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Orr- may you enjoy many more!

NHL 100-year Tribute video

Peter Mansbridge’s interview on CBC from Bobby Orr’s autobiography launch in 2013

COVID-19: Life on pause…so, what now?

It’s surreal to be writing this post at home on a Monday morning when I should be at the Omaha Lancers’ offices in Ralston Arena, starting a new week after a 2-game home series against the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-18 squad. I should be preparing to fly on Wednesday to the NTDP’s home base in Plymouth, Michigan for their annual “40-man” national selection camp, where the best 2004-born players in the USA were set to arrive this week for several days of competition, 23 of whom would be chosen at the end to wear the red, white and blue for the next two years of the national team.

Instead, I’m nowhere near the rink. The games didn’t happen, though the NTDP 18s arrived in Omaha Thursday morning (to channel Cyndi Lauper- they drove all night)- we saw them all briefly at a local restaurant before Team USA was told to get back on the bus and make the 11-hour drive back to Michigan. Shortly afterwards, we all got word that the USHL, like all major professional sports leagues in North America currently in season, was suspending operations. As such, the NTDP camp was cancelled and the 2020-21 Under-17 team will be selected by the USA Hockey/NTDP operations staff based on their midget AAA/prep/high school performances without the benefit of bringing them in to compete with and against one another.

We are in uncharted territory to be sure, and there is no way of knowing what the next step will be. But, there will be a next step. I don’t know what that will look like, and therefore, like so many others around the world, I can only wait.

Unless you are a direct descendent of Rip Van Winkle, you know what’s going on- our lives, our normalcy has all come to a grinding halt, as COVID-19/Coronavirus has forced a sea change in our routine. Familiar terms like quarantine- once usually reserved for the big screen and rare cases- have become routine. New terms like social distancing has become the norm, as the virus’s impact around the world, especially in countries like Italy, is now keenly being felt in North America. The socio-economic impact of the pandemic cannot be understated, and so we find ourselves now going without things we have long taken for granted.

I’m no doctor, so I’m not about to use this platform to dispense medical advice. However, we are at a point in time in our modern history where normal behaviors must be modified and we need to take extra steps to make ourselves aware of what is going on and act accordingly. We’re seeing it not only with the suspensions of sports leagues and cancellations of major competitions, but also in the closing of restaurants, bars, theaters, beaches…even Disney World and certain retailers, with more sure to follow suit.

With so many around the word directly and indirectly impacted by the virus and its rapid spread, we need to use the time we have to come together, be responsible and ultimately, respect that it is not about us as individuals- our own wants and desires need to be secondary to making an effort to limit the impact of COVID-19 and containing it as much as we can so that we don’t overwhelm our hospitals and medical systems with people who require treatment on top of everyone else who requires medical care.

Sports, even though it is my livelihood, have to take a necessary backseat while we figure out how to best deal with this crisis. We’ll figure out how to adapt and adjust our duties and responsibilities while on this hiatus, but in the meantime, just wanted to let everyone know that were in this together and with more time on my hands, might be figuring out how to make this blog a little more active and relevant again…at least in the short term. If there is anything I can do on here to help pass the time, let me know. If nothing else, chances are, we might be able to get the 3 Amigos back together…I can’t speak for Dom or Reed, but I’m pretty sure that we all have more time on our hands now than any of us wanted.

In closing, be safe- I firmly believe that this too, shall pass. What we do in the interim will have a profound impact on how much we are affected and how quickly we can recover. I know that in my experiences with the hockey community, we’re famous for coming together and taking care of one another- this should be no different.

Best regards,

Kirk

 

 

Farewell to Colonel (retired) Samuel W. Floca

“Anyone who says they aren’t afraid in combat is either a liar or a fool; it’s like the line in Moby Dick, when the boat captain (Starbuck) says ‘I will have no man in my boat who is not afraid of a whale.’ What he’s saying is that if you don’t have enough sense to fear real danger, then you’re the actual danger– not only to yourself– but more critically, the others with you.”– Col. Sam W. Floca Jr., U.S. Army (retired)

It’s been a while since I’ve posted on the blog, and this one is non-hockey related, but a tribute to a real hero who left this mortal life this week, but whose light will shine on long after his passing.

On Tuesday,  we learned that Samuel W. Floca, Jr. lost his battle with cancer and other conditions he picked up in a life of service in the U.S. Army where as a young officer, he fought in the Vietnam War and was wounded a staggering five different times. Uncle Sammy, as he liked to be known to his close friends, was a native of Temple, Texas and served in the Army from 1963-92, rising from the rank of private to full colonel before retiring as a member of the Army’s War College faculty after three decades of distinguished service.

In retirement, he returned to his native Central Texas where he continued to serve our military- as a mentor and friend to countless Soldiers assigned to Fort Hood, touching several generations of officers, noncommissioned officers and leaders he came in contact with.

I got to know him late in my own career- 20 years in- as a lieutenant colonel and primary staff officer in the 1st Cavalry Division. He was attending the change of command ceremony of the 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, when one of my peers and a close friend was turning over command of the storied 1st of the 7th- Garryowen! Col. Floca was wearing a U.S. Cavalry Stetson with 4th Cavalry Regimental crossed sabers, so I struck up a conversation with the obvious Vietnam-era veteran and found out that we had a lot in common, and that looking up the division’s public affairs officer (yours truly) was on his “to do” list.

From that chance encounter, he welcomed me into his Soldier family, and I learned a great deal about the man who had enlisted as a rifleman in the Army just prior to the major troop buildup in Vietnam and went on to attend Officer Candidate School, getting his commission in the Field Artillery branch. He was soon after sent to Vietnam for the first of two combat tours with the 1st Infantry Division or “Big Red One” in early 1966- when the U.S. military was realizing that they had learned few of the lessons that the French had learned a decade-plus earlier against the Vietminh during the French-Indochina War.

Sam Floca often talked about the Army’s unpreparedness for the threat they faced in the jungles of Vietnam. Organized and trained to face off against the Soviet military machine in Central Europe, our forces were ill-equipped to face the Viet Cong insurgents and North Vietnamese Army regulars who knew the terrain and were wholly committed to their cause. The American military tried to win a war of attrition, and paid dearly for it. Floca’s first experience in Southeast Asia reflected that lack of preparation, but as he began to learn and adapt, passing those lessons on to the men he led as a young lieutenant, he was wounded seriously enough to force his medical evacuation to Japan.

After recovering from his wounds, Floca went back to Vietnam as a captain in 1968, and in a bid to get reassigned to his beloved 1st Infantry Division, agreed to take a billet on the public affairs (or public information as it was called back then) staff. He had taken a journalism course in college, and because of that, he essentially was able to talk his way into the open assignment with the 1ID PIO, avoiding the mass cattle assignment reception station process in Vietnam, by which he could have ended up in any of the combat units.

Once back in the Big Red One, Floca had a plan to get back out in the bush- he had a friend in the Division’s G1 or personnel section who had told him that if he could secure assignment to 1ID, he could get him into a line unit. And thus, Captain Floca was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery Regiment- “Hamilton’s Own”- the oldest Regular Army unit on active duty, tracing its lineage back to January, 1776 and commanded by founding father Alexander Hamilton. He would then receive assignment to the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment (“Ramrods”) as the battalion Fire Support Officer.

On September 23, 1968, near Loc Ninh, an infantry unit from 2-2 came under enemy indirect and direct fire. Floca ran forward to position himself with the company in contact, then immediately began adjusting friendly mortar and artillery indirect fires on the enemy positions, preventing the American unit from being overrun. In his citation for the Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest award for valor after the Medal of Honor and Distinguished Service Cross, Floca was praised for placing himself repeatedly in positions forward where he was taken under direct fire by the enemy, calling in accurate indirect fire as close as 25 meters (!) to his own position, placing himself in tremendous danger. Wounded by shrapnel, he continued to call for fire and engaged the enemy in direct fire until the attack was defeated.

That, my friends, is the definition of a hero.

And like the first tour in Vietnam, Floca would not leave his second under his own power. He was wounded more severely after that action, and Captain Floca’s War came to an end once more. He would later go in and out of line unit artillery assignments and public affairs positions, because you see- that old journalism class did come back to haunt him. Even though he never typed a single release in country, that assignment to the 1ID public affairs office was on his personnel file, and there was no escaping the dreaded “needs of the Army” requirements when the time came.

He ended his career at the War College at Carlisle Barracks, PA, where he became the subject matter expert for the Battle of Gettysburg and conducted comprehensive staff rides at the battlefield to analyze the strategic implications and capture lessons learned. He retired from the Army in 1992, but it was in that capacity that he ended up becoming one of the key technical advisers on the set of the film Gettysburg produced in 1993. 

The Sam Floca I knew enjoyed passing on his experiences as an Old Soldier to those who were a part of his own legacy of service. He no doubt left some stories and experiences buried in the deepest recesses of his wartime memories, but he loved being around the troops. As the Honorary Regimental Commander of the 82nd Field Artillery Regiment (Ancient Dragon 6 was his callsign), he was always there for the troops of the 1st Cavalry Division. I had him spend nearly an entire day sharing his experiences as a public affairs officer with my division PAO team, and as much time we allocated to him, he barely scratched the surface of his knowledge and insights.  As he was fond of saying, “The bond among Soldiers is never broken: race, creed, color…they’re your brothers, they’re your brothers for life.” You couldn’t drag Sam Floca away from his brothers in arms- no matter how much of a gap between the generations.

That’s why in retirement, he returned home to the Lone Star State, a proud a sixth generation Texan who had two relatives who had fought in the Battle of San Jacinto under General Sam Houston in 1836.  Floca’s east Texan drawl belied the fierceness of his warrior stock and loyalty to his roots. He used to say (and always with his million dollar smile), “I’ll never ask a man where he’s from- If he’s from Texas, he’ll tell you. And if he’s not, you don’t want to embarrass him.”

Floca’s house was like a museum- it contained an amazing collection of military art, toy soldiers, miniatures and dioramas of major historical battlefields. You could spend hours in Uncle Sammy’s pad, and not come close to digesting everything he had on display and each and every story that came with it. He lived alone in that house in Temple right on a golf course. He lived alone because like the rest of us, he was not a perfect man. His devotion to military service and some of the personal demons he picked up along the way cost him his marriage and family. He took ownership of that, and often spoke proudly of his daughter, Amy, whom he made clear was his greatest accomplishment.

One of my favorite items he had in that house was a photo of Amy with iconic actor Sam Elliott, taken when the veteran actor portrayed Brigadier General John Buford, commander of the Union Army’s 1st Cavalry Division for the Gettysburg film. I had grown up watching Elliott, and his portrayal of Buford was one of the things that inspired me to choose the armored cavalry as my branch when I commissioned in 1994. Knowing that Floca had advised and helped Elliott with his role made the memorable scenes he was in all the more special and impactful for me.

As I prepared to leave Fort Hood in late 2016, Colonel Floca gave me a couple of precious gifts from his personal art and book collection. In the book How Can Man Die Better, a detailed accounting of the British disaster at Isandlwana in 1879, he inscribed to me inside the book’s cover- “Kirk- Even as combat cavalrymen and PAOs, we would’ve had a hell of a time putting ‘spin’ on this one for the British press.”

He was a national treasure and while his battle against the ravages of disease on his body are finally over, all who knew and loved him already miss him terribly. Soldier. Leader. Mentor. Friend.

Farewell, Sir- Godspeed. I will see you again one day…at Fiddler’s Green.

If you are able,
save them a place
inside of you
and save one backward glance
when you are leaving
for the places they can
no longer go.
Be not ashamed to say
you loved them,
though you may
or may not have always.
Take what they have left
and what they have taught you
with their dying
and keep it with your own.
And in that time
when men decide and feel safe
to call the war insane,
take one moment to embrace
those gentle heroes
you left behind.

Major Michael Davis O’Donnell
1 January 1970
Dak To, Vietnam

 

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Best and Worst Bruins Draft Picks 1-30; 1963-2019

Thornton

I recently posted this to the Bruins sub-Reddit- and thought it deserved a place on my blog.

Took a swing at the Boston Bruins historical draft choices, analyzing the team’s selections since the NHL implemented a rudimentary draft system 56 years ago. Bear in mind that in the pre-1969 years, the draft was different- starting in 1963 thru 1978 it was called the amateur draft before changing to the NHL Entry Draft in 1979 when the teams were allowed to draft 18-year-olds. With fewer teams in the 60’s, 70’s & 80’s, selections outside of 10-20 were 2nd round or later, but for purpose of exercise, I’m going to look at picks 1-30 and call it like I see it.

I’m bucking convention by starting out with 1st overall and work up to 30- in a lot of cases, the early selections for the B’s have not been kind, but in full context- most of the time the team was picking 3-7, it came in the days before the current draft system. And because the B’s had made the playoffs from 1968-97, unless they owned bad teams’ 1st rounders, they rarely got a chance to pick inside the top-10 during that time frame.

1- Best: Joe Thornton, 1997: 1st ballot HHOFer- nuf ced; Trading him opened the door for Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard to join the B’s in 2006, but he’s been everything Jumbo Joe was projected to be as a teen titan with the Soo Greyhounds in 1997. He just turned 40 in July, which, given the shaggy, golden-locked kid who showed up in Boston 22 years ago at not quite 18, seems impossible to square with the grizzled graybeard who has been with the San Jose Sharks for nearly a decade and a half.

Worst: Barry Gibbs, 1966: Journeyman defenseman. He at least played in the NHL to the tune of 796 career games, most of them not with the Bruins. However, Gibbs leads the No. 1 overall bust hit parade not because of what he did, but because of the player who was selected right behind him at No. 2 in ’66 by the NY Rangers. Wait for it…Brad Park. Can you imagine Bobby Orr and Brad Park together on the Boston blue line? It actually happened for a handful of games right before Orr left for the Windy City, but had they been able to play together in their primes, we’re talking at least 2 more Stanley Cups in that era. Yikes. (H/T to Reddit user Timeless_Watch for pointing this out- I moved Kluzak down to HM)

HM: Gord Kluzak, 1982: Oh what could have been? What if…B’s had drafted Brian Bellows or Scott Stevens there instead of Kluzak? Kluzak had knee injuries in junior hockey days and then got blown up in his 2nd NHL season- without the technology to repair knees that we have today, it doomed him to being day-to-day for the rest of his career and an early retirement. He should have been a long-tenured NHL defenseman, but it didn’t happen for him, and unfortunately, he’s more of a footnote in Bruins lore, which is unfortunate.

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NHL Free Agency Day 1: Bruins add depth, Acciari to Panthers

cropped-fitzgeraldbs.jpg

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.

Here’s an informative article on him out of Winnipeg from a month ago…

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?

Here’s something a little dated (written a year ago) on Ritchie from a Dallas perspective.

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.

Here’s an article on Gaunce when news broke he would not be qualified by the Canucks:

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.

NHL free agency: B’s likely to part with Johansson

We’re on the eve of the NHL’s annual open market unrestricted free agent derby and with the Boston Bruins having about $12 million in cap space and three key restricted free agents to come to terms with in Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Danton Heinen, don’t expect any major splash on July 1.

Additionally, with trade deadline acquisition Marcus Johansson rumored (per report from Darren Dreger) to be talking to multiple teams, and none of them the Bruins, it looks like the B’s will miss out on re-signing a good complementary piece who made a positive impact in his short time in the Black and Gold.

Unfortunately, when you haven’t signed your key restricted free agents, it’s pretty tough to make a solid offer to an unrestricted free agent who is being courted by teams with more solidified positions. The player known as “Jo-Jo” will almost certainly get a new zip code tomorrow or early in the UFA signing period, but in the end, are the Bruins taking a big blow? Johansson is likely to get a contract that exceeds his current value and Don Sweeney understands that, so he wasn’t about to rob Peter to pay Paul to try and move someone else to free up the cap room to take a run at MJ90.

In the end, Johansson helped his new club get within one win of a Stanley Cup championship…but the B’s couldn’t quite get there. And like every team that enjoys extended playoff success, there is always a “winner’s tax” that comes in the form of other teams with cap space who line up to invest in said players who hit the open market. One of the most important factors in good teams staying good is by avoiding the temptation of re-signing solid role players at higher-than-market value based on past performance. If Johansson is going to get $6M or more, let some other team break out the check book. The B’s have more immediate (with long-term implications) and strategic interests to manage.

Boston’s real priority is getting contracts extended with their RFAs and however long it takes, expect it to get done. McAvoy may take a bit of time, but the prediction here is that Carlo and Heinen should come to terms in relatively fast order.  And let us not forget- next summer, you’ll see Torey Krug, Charlie Coyle and Jaroslav Halak (plus Chris Wagner, Joakim Nordstrom, Kevan Miller and Zdeno Chara) become unrestricted free agents (and realistically- will we be seeing Chara’s last NHL campaign in 2019-20?), while Jake DeBrusk and Matt Grzelcyk will be up for raises on the restricted side.

Sweeney needs to avoid over-commitment on the pricey open market and focus on managing Boston’s growing cap.

In the meantime, watch for the Bruins to invest modest cap numbers in low-end veteran players who will provide some bargain value with NHL experience, but not much upside. This opens the door for players like Oskar Steen or Jack Studnicka perhaps to take a run at making the B’s this fall to help fill the gap left by Johansson’s departure. Anders Bjork, often a forgotten man because he’s been lost to significant injuries in each of his last (and only) two pro seasons probably should be the first forward who slots into the vacancy left by Johansson. However, the B’s are still left with a more pressing need to address on the right wing.

That isn’t going to get solved via free agency, so it may mean Sweeney and Co. may need to open up the stable doors and try to make a trade somewhere.

Regardless of what happens tomorrow, don’t expect the Bruins to be major players. They’ll do what they usually do and bring in low-end signings that bolster the organization, but the war chest to sign the bigger available names out there in the first 48 hours isn’t there…barring some kind of creative maneuvering no one expects.

However- we keep going back to the summer of 2020. If the B’s overspend now, it makes it substantially more difficult to manage in 12 months. The smart money bets that the team will focus on locking up its own guys versus jumping into the deeper pool with teams with the money to spend (and potentially get themselves over their heads) when the frenzy kicks off in a matter of hours.