Dominic Tiano: What’s Next for the Bruins? (Part 3)

Editor’s note: We continue our series here at the Scouting Post on the end of the 2016-17 Boston Bruins season and 3 Amigo/guest columnist and fan favorite Dominic Tiano is here to provide his informed perspective once again. -KL

TSP founder Kirk Luedeke began this series once the Boston Bruins were eliminated by the Ottawa Senators Sunday from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. When he asked 3 Amigos Podcast Partners Reed Duthie and myself for our contributions, I immediately jumped on the task of shining some light on a few of the boys in Black in Gold that have, for a large part of the season, been “whipping boys” among the Bruins faithful.

Take this as one person’s opinion. Constructive criticism is always welcome but it is what it is, an opinion.

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Reed Duthie: Bruins are out…What’s next? (Part 2)

Editor’s note- Reed Duthie debuts at the Scouting Post with his thoughts on what could be on the horizon for the Boston Bruins personnel-wise. Reed is not only one of the 3 Amigos, but he is the accomplished play-by-play announcer for the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs. With the hockey season over, we hope to see more of Reed’s contributions here in the offseason as a longtime follower of the Bruins and astute analyst.

You have to crawl before you can walk, and you have to walk before you can run. If this season was any indication, the Boston Bruins as a group are certainly finding their way, maybe not running just yet but certainly getting up to a brisk jog.

Although the end of season / early playoff injuries put the Bruins a hole they couldn’t recover from we learned a lot about this team in terms of heart and soul. The additions of traditional blue collar players like Noel Acciari & Sean Kuraly gave the Bruins an energy boost, while Charlie McAvoy made Bruins fans begin to dream in optimistic terms once again.

But after a hard fought loss where do the Bruins go from here?

The Bruins will have some options as both the Las Vegas Golden Knights Expansion Draft & NHL Entry Draft loom on the horizon, and are set up pretty well to play what is becoming an ever more complicated chess game in NHL front offices.

Most likely the Bruins will go the route of protecting 7 forwards, 3 defencemen & 1 goaltender and some of the names are obvious, 5 forwards stand out (Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, David Krejci & David Backes), 2 defencemen (Zdeno Chara & Torey Krug) as well as an obvious choice as the goaltender (Tuukka Rask). Up front young talent such as  Acciari, Kuraly, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson & Frank Vatrano are ineligible due to lack of professional service time, while veterans Dominic Moore, Tim Schaller & Drew Stafford are pending UFA’s and unlikely to be taken by Vegas. Riley Nash may qualify as a protected player for the Bruins simply due to his skill set as a bottom-6 forward who can play multiple positions and help shepherd younger players but the biggest question up front is the curious case of Ryan Spooner.

Spooner is an incredibly talented young player but seems to have yet fully seized that at the NHL level. The Bruins have the room to easily protect their still developing center but with Spooner being held out of Games 5 & 6 of the playoff series vs Ottawa and having been used sparingly at even strength when in the lineup questions will abound as to whether the Bruins want move forward with Spooner or could he be bait to add to a growing stable of talent on the back end of the Bruins lineup.

On defence the Bruins have clear choices in Chara & Krug but the picture gets cloudier from there, impressive rookies McAvoy & Brandon Carlo are ineligible due to service time while Colin Miller, Kevan Miller & Adam McQuaid would all need to be protected but would any of the three interest Las Vegas, and would they be replaceable for the Bruins?

The delta of these two issues comes when you look closely teams like Minnesota, Nashville, Anaheim, etc. who have a plethora of talented defencemen and not enough spots on the roster to keep them all through the expansion process.

 Could the Bruins wheel Spooner as part of a package to one of those teams and come away with a left handed shot who could be a part of the Bruins future moving forward?

In my opinion Don Sweeney and his staff through their drafts and the development of players coming through the pipeline have earned the trust to be able to navigate through what will be a wild summer in multiple aspects and they will have a multitude of options at their fingertips to improve the 2017-2018 and beyond Boston Bruins.

 

Bruins are out…what’s next? (Part 1)

For the sixth time in as many games in the Boston Bruins-Ottawa Senators 2017 NHL playoff series, the contest was decided by just one goal, and went to overtime for the fourth occasion. Unfortunately for the B’s and their faithful, an untimely David Pastrnak penalty (and it was a penalty, even though the men in stripes once again open themselves up to criticism by not calling other similar infractions in OT) opened the door for the Senators to send them home.

Given the tumultuous season that ultimately ended in what we feel is positive fashion despite the disappointing outcome (the B’s lost all three of its home games), there are reasons for fans to be optimistic about the organization going forward. Here are a few story lines to keep an eye on as the B’s made the postseason for the first time in Don Sweeney’s tenure as GM, and gave the Senators all they could handle. Some bounces here and there, and perhaps a little more consistency in the officiating, and who knows? Maybe the team could’ve pulled off an upset, but we see more reasons to  be positive than negative given where things stood in early February when Claude Julien was fired.

This post will focus on Bruce Cassidy and Charlie McAvoy as the team clears out lockers and begins the offseason. Other parts will look at different topics rather  than generate one gigantic 4,000-word (or more) post. Yes, the posts have been more and more infrequent- what can we tell you- professional and personal life has intervened and this is a side project. As always- appreciate the support of this blog.

Now, for the first in a series of “calling it like we see it” posts about the Bruins and where they go from here:

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids

The B’s were in disarray at a time when Boston and the New England region was euphoric over the New England Patriots’ record-setting comeback against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI to secure a fifth NFL championship since 2001, and the second in three years.

The Julien release watch had been in full effect since before the calendar flipped over to 2017, but when the team announced his dismissal on the day of the Pats’ victory parade in Boston, there was much criticism in media and fan circles about the timing. In his place, assistant coach Bruce Cassidy was given the title of “interim head coach” and handed the unenviable task of righting the ship of a team that had struggled with consistency all season long. Interestingly enough, the predictions of the defense being the club’s Achilles heel proved to be off, as a lack of balanced scoring, more than problems on the blue line, threatened a third consecutive spring out of the postseason.

Cassidy came in and was able to see immediate success by having the defense play a more aggressive, uptempo style than what fans were used to under the more measured Julien-coached teams. Ultimately, there wasn’t a huge difference in the systems the B’s employed under Cassidy vs. his predecessor, but the results were more effective. The team went .720 down the stretch and made it into the postseason (a Toronto loss on the final night of the regular season spared Boston from the eighth seed and having to run the gauntlet against the President’s Trophy-winning Washington Capitals) for the first time since 2014 and a first-place campaign.

On paper, Cassidy has earned the chance to shed the interim tag and be the B’s head coach. However, it is curious to note that even with the strong performance down the stretch and a plucky, if ultimately unsuccessful first round, that the team has not yet made the announcement that Butch is the guy. It could mean that they were just waiting for the season to end/keep the focus on the playoff effort, or one can only wonder if there is another coaching candidate they have in mind…either way, we should find out soon enough whether Cassidy will be rewarded for his 20-12-1 record in both the regular and postseasons (hat tip to Kevin Paul Dupont for doing the work to post that final stat line), or if the team opts to go in a different direction.

Conventional thought says it should be Cassidy, but if we’ve learned one thing under the current B’s regime, they aren’t big on conventions.

Charlie McAvoy is the Real McCoy

Hype.

It’s ever present on social and in traditional media, and there’s not much we can do about it.

For the precocious defenseman, it began the day the Bruins drafted Charlie McAvoy at 14th overall after the collective D had been a major factor in the team’s stretch run flameout in 2016. It didn’t take long (you could measure it in minutes after Charles Jacobs announced McAvoy’s selection in Buffalo) for talk to immediately begin that as soon as the spring of 2017, the Long Island native and Boston University sophomore could be skating around on NHL ice with the Bruins.

Fast forward to the end of April, and after it appeared that the team would slow his development a bit by keeping him in the AHL to close out the 2016-17 campaign after he turned pro by signing a minor league deal, a massive blow to Boston’s depth on the blue line necessitated his signing to an entry-level contract and being thrown into the fire right away- his first NHL action coming in Game 1 of the B’s-Sens series.

Well, we’re happy to report that the hype is real!

McAvoy stepped in and looked like a seasoned veteran, playing close to 25 minutes a game and adding three assists in six playoff games (his 1st NHL goal was wiped out due to a successful coach’s challenge in Game 4).

What’s interesting about players like McAvoy is there is always a yin and yang argument when it comes to fans. On one side- you have the people who love their shiny new toys and seemingly want any and every player who agrees to terms to go right into the lineup so they themselves can have the immediate gratification. On the other side, you have the “every player must go to the AHL to develop” mindset, where certain folks seem to coddle these guys and fear that exposing them to the crucible of the NHL will somehow “ruin” them if they haven’t had a chance to acclimate. Both sides are right…and both are wrong. We’re in favor of the more balanced approach, whereby you look at each player on a case-by-case basis, and accept that there are myriad factors that go into whether an individual can make an immediate impact at the NHL level, or whether they will benefit from seasoning and not being rushed into a situation they aren’t ready for. There are no hard, fast rules for this- teams and their player development folks have to sometimes make tough calls, but ultimately, there are times when the decision is taken out of their hands when situations beyond anyone’s control intervene.

Luckily for the Bruins, they got a chance to see their prized prospect in action sooner rather than later, and the payoff could be bigger than we thought when he was first drafted.

The truth with McAvoy is relatively simple- some players are talented and mentally tough enough to handle what comes their way. Developing NHL players is not a cookie-cutter process, so while some players can come right in and be successful at the highest level, others might not have that ability (or the opportunity afforded them to step right in due to injuries to key personnel as was the case with McAvoy). There was much concern initially over losing a year off of McAvoy’s NHL contract, but those fears were allayed quickly when he played such a poised, refined and high tempo game from the get-go. Much like Brandon Carlo at the beginning of the year, the B’s no doubt figured he was good, but how quickly he would establish himself at such a top level was the pleasant surprise. It was a shame that McAvoy and Carlo didn’t have a chance to be in the Boston lineup at the same time, but in the span of just seven months, the team’s defense on the right side, a gaping black hole a year ago, sure looks to be shaping up as a strength going forward.

Side note- had a fan on Twitter bark at yours truly to delete his account yesterday because of the temerity to make an observation after several OT turnovers inside his own end that McAvoy needed to tighten up his decisions. Welcome to the modern world of social media and sports, where any kind of critical observation of a play in real time is conflated with “hate” and greeted with disdain and vitriol. Sigh. This appears to be the new reality similar to the old Tuukka Rask debate, where you can’t say anything negative or attempt to hold said player accountable without being accused of being a “hater.” You actually see certain people in the media engaging in this same kind of inflammatory narrative, and it needs to stop.  With McAvoy, it’s almost as if there is this idea out there that just because someone is a 19-year-old rookie, no one is allowed to point out bad plays/errors that could result in goals against if he keeps making them. This is the sports version of special snowflakes- whereby aggressive fans adopt this see/speak/hear no evil mentality- and can’t seem to handle an honest debate about what is happening in real time. They’d rather bluster/bow up and take it personally whenever their own sense of fairness is challenged- even when one is making an honest assessment during a fluid situation. Let’s make one thing clear here, folks- McAvoy is going to make mistakes and cost his teams goals.  And  (gasp) some of them will be indefensible- it happens to every player in the NHL. Talk about it and move on, but this attempt to shut down an honest conversation/analysis in-game is what is at issue. The net benefit of McAvoy and the positive plays he’ll make will likely far outweigh those negative plays. But, if your reaction is to shoot the messenger every time someone points out an error your favorite player made or discusses an emerging negative trend line and comments on it, then you’re part of the problem. This is why we can’t have nice things, and why insiders are spending less and less time interacting with fans who can’t seem to be civil in their disagreement. Right, wrong, indifferent- we can and should all do better (present company included).

Now, back to McAvoy. Had he stayed in the AHL and not gotten his shot in Boston, we’d be talking all summer in hypotheticals about whether he could win a job out of training camp in October and wondering if he is ready to handle the rigors of the NHL. Case closed. Check the box. He can play. What we get to find out next is just how good a player he’ll become. And that’s the fun part.

Now, what we don’t know is whether he’ll come in and be able to play at the same high level he did once teams have a chance to study him on film and put more pressure on him over the course of the next full regular season. The prediction here is that he’ll continue to thrive and develop in a positive way, but if we’re honest with ourselves- we have to allow that six games is a pretty limited sample size and you can’t rule out a regression in play. That said, we saw enough to think that with the talent and swagger McAvoy has, a young super star is ascending in Boston. Give Sweeney and his staff credit for making the right call in the draft last June- we know there are teams kicking themselves for not jumping on McAvoy when they had the chance. Just like Pastrnak was quite the value in 2014, Boston’s newest hope on the blue line is on track to carry the torch for the foreseeable future.

 

We’ll be back with more Bruins storylines in the coming days…

 

Deconstructing the Claude Julien firing

About 24 hours ago, the Boston Bruins and GM Don Sweeney officially swung the Sword of Damocles that had been hanging over the organization and coach Claude Julien’s head for weeks (some would even say years), dismissing the franchise’s all-time wins leader and Stanley Cup champion behind the bench, setting off a firestorm of criticism online and in the media for the timing and way it was handled.

This post will attempt to analyze the move and the subsequent naming of assistant coach Bruce Cassidy as the B’s interim bench boss. It is by no means the first and last word on the matter, nor will it hit every bucket that the firing impacts. Whether you were someone who felt it was time to go and are angered that the team elected to do it on the morning of the New England Patriots’ victory parade, are someone who felt he was not the problem and are even more irate at the timing, or are someone who feels like the move had to be made and have no issue with it (and everyone in between), this piece will try to raise multiple perspectives and shed light on some of the other factors that led to where we are on Wednesday, February 8, 2017- nearly a decade after Julien was brought in on the heels of the failed Dave Lewis experiment.

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Jakub Zboril: the Good Cop-Bad Cop theory

good-cop-bad-cop-lego-movie

When the Boston Bruins drafted Czech defenseman Jakub Zboril 13th overall in 2015 out of the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs, few raised any eyebrows.

After all- the pick made sense at the time for myriad reasons: talent-wise, he was right around where he could and should go. He had posted a 13-goal, 33-point season in just 44 games in his first North American stint. He had the size, skating, puck skills, shot and even some physical nasty to his game to validate being chosen there. Defense was also becoming a major issue for Boston- then-GM Peter Chiarelli had traded veteran two-way machine & fan favorite Johnny Boychuk on the eve of the 2014-15 campaign for futures (well, as we type this Brandon Carlo is certainly thriving in the present) and he subsequently went off, posting a career-best 9 goals and 35 points, while Boston’s defense contributed to the late-season swoon that cost the B’s a playoff appearance for the first time since 2007. In short- Zboril was a typical crowd-pleaser in that not only did he address an obvious organizational need, but no one could screech loudly on Twitter and Internet message boards about his being a “reach” for the team where he was picked.

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Breaking (it down on) Bad Brandon Carlo

Carlo

Brandon Carlo- 2nd-round, 37th overall in 2015 (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Don’t be misled by the title- Boston Bruins rookie defenseman Brandon Carlo has been anything but “bad” in the first quarter of his introduction to the NHL. We use the word “bad” in the best sense to describe Carlo as a player who has rapidly carved a niche for himself with the B’s, infusing the blue line with the kind of shutdown consistency that was so lacking a year ago.

The Colorado Springs-area  native and 37th overall selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft is the youngest defenseman to break into the NHL full-time alongside a future Hall of Fame partner since 19-year-old Dougie Hamilton arrived at the start of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign.

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The Tuukka Rask mea culpa

Tuukka_Rask

Tuukka Rask (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

One of the nice things about having a blog is the platform it provides to put out opinions and in the process, be praised by those who agree with you and taken to task by those who don’t.

Last April, I/we wrote a post here at the Scouting Post called “Requiem for the 2016 Bruins” in which we attempted to break down what went wrong in a season that looked like a success with just one month left in the regular campaign before the wheels fell off over a disastrous 30-day window that saw the Philadelphia Flyers come surging from behind to knock the well-positioned (as of mid-March 2016) Bruins out of the playoffs on the regular season’s last day.

One of the major culprits in my/our mind was goaltender Tuukka Rask, who took ill and couldn’t make the start for Boston in their do-or-die game against the Ottawa Senators at home to close out the season. Before we continue- let us just say that nothing on this blog is personal. TSP tries to provide a balanced perspective on hockey (on mostly Bruins or Bruins-related topics) and goes to great lengths not to be seen as “clickbait” or a pot-stirrer that tries to generate controversy with outlandish views designed to provoke and inflame the emotions of those readers and Bruins fans who frequent this page. We have always had the utmost respect for Rask’s ability as an NHL goaltender- he was a 1st-round pick for a reason and a top prospect long before he broke into the NHL with the Bruins on a full-time basis during the 2009-10 hockey season. Having said that, Rask the person is a bit more complex- he can be aloof and prickly when things aren’t going well. He’s not a bad guy, but he’s not exactly an ideal teammate at times either. This, coupled with his up-and-down play going back several seasons and the $7 million per year price tag he carries makes him a lightning rod of criticism at times.

Just as there is a segment of people who simply have never been on the “Tuukka Train” for whatever reason, there is a large cadre of Rask loyalists who have always seemed to take it personally whenever anyone questioned him, fair or not.

In the end, though, it is time to admit that TSP went too far last April in the position that the Bruins would be well served by looking into trading him. Here are a few “gems” from that post:

The Bruins were rumored to be discussing moving Rask on draft day last summer, and with hindsight being 20/20, they probably should have and given the reins to the then still (but not now) unproven Martin Jones. The Hamilton trade furor and fan backlash is likely what stopped Sweeney in his tracks on moving Rask (assuming the rumor is true), but after this season of up-and-down play and a less-than-team first attitude to boot, while the goaltender doesn’t deserve the lion’s share of the blame, he nevertheless played a key part in the collapse.

Hindsight being 20/20, it was far too easy to leverage Jones’ success in San Jose and wield it as a cudgel to brain Rask with. He didn’t get much defensive support last season, and while he had his own cross to bear at times, TSP took the lazy way out by pointing to the woulda-coulda-shoulda course of action by sticking with the untested Jones. Given the state of Boston’s defense, that could have been a catastrophe for the B’s, and while Rask didn’t play the best hockey of his career in 2015-16, he also stole some games for the B’s and did play a key role in putting them into a solid position going into the season’s final month. True- when the team imploded, Rask did so right along with everyone else, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you throw the baby out with the bath water.

Here’s more from last April:

For me, it’s simple- while I admire the hell out of Rask’s natural talent, I’m not sure I’d want him in a foxhole next to me. Right, wrong, indifferent- he’s the one core piece the Bruins could move to try and get out from under the situation they’re in. He’s not yet 30, will no doubt appeal to a multitude of teams that could see him as a critical piece to get them over the hump, and hey- he’s a talented player. Boston’s problem is that the teams with the most to gain from Rask and the most to offer (young, up-and-coming D) are all pretty well set between the pipes. Nobody ever said the life of a GM was easy…

Trading him certainly means there’s a good chance the B’s will take an even bigger step backwards next season if Rask is dealt, but maybe not. And what’s the real upside to keeping him for what looks to be another bridge/re-tool year even if the B’s can land one higher-end defender and maybe another capable player via free agency? We’ve already seen in two seasons that Rask was unable to elevate his play enough to negate the dearth of skill at other positions. So, depending on the return and how much cap space is allocated to other talent at other positions, it just might get Boston on the right track to sustained success sooner than many might think.

Wow, I even used the foxhole reference…as the old song goes: “nowhere to run to, baby- nowhere to hide…” The rationale was sound enough, but it looks nothing short of foolish after 1 month of the new season.

A funny thing happened on the way to burying the Boston defense for 2016-17 and Rask’s chances to do something important along with it- Brandon Carlo came along and has helped to reinvigorate Zdeno Chara’s play. The current defense is no threat to Stanley Cup blue line corps of yore, and they’ve certainly put Rask and the three other goalies who have suited up for Boston in the season’s first month in some pickles at times, but they appear to be an improved group from last year. When you consider that other than re-signing John-Michael Liles, there wasn’t one significant addition from outside the organization over the summer, that’s saying something.

The reality is- Rask has been able to elevate his play, reeling off 10 wins in his first 11 games for the first time in Bruins history since some guy named Gerry Cheevers did it 40 years ago. Cheevers, by the way, is a Hall of Fame goaltender and two-time Stanley Cup champion for the B’s, arguably the most identifiable goalie for the franchise given his iconic “stitches” mask and clutch play in the postseason (he is Boston’s all-time playoff wins leader ahead of other Cup winners such as Cecil “Tiny” Thompson, Frank “Mr. Zero” Brimsek and Tim Thomas). The skeptic will say- “Yeah, but it’s only been one month!” as a counter to Rask’s stellar play, but this blog doesn’t deal in “yeah, buts”- we call it like we see it and thus far, the 29-year-old Finn is the hands-down MVP and only one who’s posted a ‘W’ (repeat 10 times) to keep the Bruins above water. We’re not worried about what will happen if Rask slumps, because frankly- he’s playing some of the best hockey we’ve seen, and it’s giving both he and his teammates a major lift. If you want to know what elite NHL goaltending looks like, check out film on Rask’s starts this season.

Here’s where we probably should have just quit while we were ahead, but no- we/I just kept digging the hole deeper. To whit:

In the end, I just don’t feel that Rask is the right player for this team. His body language and at times perceived indifference doesn’t seem suited for the clear growing pains such a porous defense and inconsistent forward group is going to bring to the ice on any given night in Boston. It doesn’t make Rask a bad person, and he’s done some good things for the B’s in his tenure. Before the legion of Rask fans descend on this space to blast me for saying it- I truly believe a change of scenery would be best for him too. I have little doubt that with the right destination, he’d waive his own NMC to do so. Unfortunately, it also means Sweeney and Co. are selling low, but sometimes you have to swallow hard, cut your losses and do what you think is right for the club over the long haul.

Well, when you get it wrong, sometimes you just need to come out and take your lumps. No equivocating or attempts to rationalize or justify needed. Obviously Don Sweeney doesn’t need or want our help and he held the line, believing that Rask was capable of giving the team more than he did last year and even the season before.

Rask has been stellar, and how he goes, so will the Boston Bruins season. He’s talented enough to carry the team and he’s done it so far with the rest of the scoring balance on the lines starting to be restored and Torey Krug appearing to be getting closer to full health after a rough first 30 days. There are sure to be ups and downs, but as someone who floated the idea of trading Rask, here’s a mea culpa. Even if and when he inevitably comes down to earth a bit, Rask has shown what he’s capable of, and that has to instill Boston leadership with the belief that he can be a part of the solution going forward, even if the franchise might have to take a step or two backwards first.

Patience certainly can be a virtue and right now, the B’s are reaping the benefits of sticking by their man. At TSP, we’re big enough to admit that and offer our thanks that we weren’t in a position to sell low on Rask, which would have been a horrendous thing to do, especially if he was enjoying this renaissance in another team’s colors while the B’s took cents on the dollar for another high-profile trade.

So, there it is- we return you to your regularly scheduled Boston Bruins hockey season.

Big trouble

Two games, two goals for and 10 goals against.

Malcolm Subban was chased Tuesday against Minnesota in a 5-0 home drubbing, and Zane McIntyre’s first career NHL start began with promise Wednesday at Madison Square Garden where the B’s took a 2-0 lead on goals from David Pastrnak and Austin Czarnik (his first in the NHL), but were undone by another putrid second period and allowed five unanswered to drop to 3-4 overall.

We knew the Bruins were going to have ups and downs, but to have lost both of Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin…they’re in it deep because neither one of Subban nor McIntyre appears to be prepared to carry the B’s through their current injury woes. Khudobin is on the shelf for several weeks, but the B’s have been completely silent on Rask’s status…that could mean he’s close or it might be the worst kind of news- any long-term injury to the veteran netminder and former Vezina Trophy winner and the Bruins are screwed. Let’s be clear- last night’s loss was not McIntyre’s fault. Sure- he gave up a soft goal to Kevin Hayes (both Boston guys the Bruins courted- Hayes and Jimmy Vesey tallied for the Rangers- file it under “rub salt in the wounds” category) to tie it at two, but he was outstanding at other times in making saves that should have been goals. Unfortunately, the NHL is an unforgiving business and the final score, even though the offense went dormant and the defense left McIntyre in a vulnerable position time after time…that 5-2 end result is what we’re left with.

The defense is struggling, but not in the ways we anticipated. Torey Krug is still not himself since his offseason shoulder surgery. He’s a step behind the play and trying too hard from the looks of it. He’s too good a player to stay in a prolonged slump for much longer, but he’d be the first to tell you he’s played poorly from the beginning. Last night, he was a key contributor to New York’s first goal on the power play by Rick Nash, failing to clear the puck when it was on his stick and then being so far out of position so as to allow Nash two shots to get it in uncontested off to McIntyre’s left. Adam McQuaid, who missed the first five games to injury, is now back and to say he’s not been good is the understatement of the century right now. His lack of mobility has a spotlight on it right now and last night, he was exposed multiple times by long lead passes in the neutral zone. For all the praise we saw Brandon Carlo getting on Twitter last night- he simply wasn’t very good either. He at least battled hard and competed, but he wasn’t effective in several 1-on-1 situations and was burned several times when he pinched up and then found himself behind the play. Note- constructive criticism of a player’s performance is not “hate” but it’s typical of fans to scapegoat certain players while conveniently ignoring the mistakes of the ones they’re solidly behind. Carlo’s a heck of a young defender, but he doesn’t get a pass on his mistakes. Last night, he was part of the problem and not the solution, but to be absolutely truthful- Carlo had a lot of help on the blame line.

We could go on and on…David Backes is out with an elbow injury and his absence could be weeks vs. days…Matt Beleskey is a game hitter but is completely MIA offensively. Ryan Spooner can’t seem to get in gear- the wing thing isn’t working. David Krejci assisted on the Czarnik goal, but like Krug, he hasn’t been himself either after hip surgery. Jimmy Hayes…enough said.  And the beat goes on.

We don’t have the answers you seek. Dan Vladar, he of 35 saves for Providence last night vs. the Toronto Marlies in an OT loss, isn’t one. He’s simply not ready, even if there are promising signs to his development. To those who want the Bruins to go out and trade for a goalie- it’s not that simple. Guys like Ondrej Pavelec (Jets) and Mike Condon (Penguins) can be had, but with their GMs knowing teams like the Bruins and the several others with goalie issues like the L.A. Kings, are over the barrel, the cost is probably not worth it. The type of player that could be had via trade or waivers isn’t going to make enough of a difference to justify the cost. Had a fan on Twitter say yesterday that a guy like Pavelec could be had “for a song,” and perhaps that person is right, but we would submit that unless that song is future considerations or unless Rask is gone for the foreseeable future, what is the point of giving up a pick or prospect just to be stuck with three NHL goalies and a mediocre one in Pavelec when Boston’s 1-2 goalies return to health?

The goaltending position is not the issue here. Yes, Subban and McIntyre aren’t likely to be the answer in the short term, but with the defense and offense misfiring badly, that need not be the focus for change. GM Don Sweeney knew coming in that his D wasn’t very good and was hoping they would surprise and overachieve. That hasn’t happened, and the struggles are now magnified without the top net minding talents, so here we are.

With the schedule getting tougher, it sure looks like things are going to get worse before they get better, but for now- we’ll have to wait for the other shoe to drop on Rask. We’re seven games in, and you’d think the team is 0-7 as opposed to 3-4 but the woes are exacerbated by the knowledge that the defense was a problem area going in. The team was counting on Krug to be a key cog, and right now, he’s not delivered- that puts pressure on everyone else. Colin Miller looks great…at not accomplishing much. We just don’t think he has the vision and head to be anything more than a role player who can chip in with offense but who doesn’t process the game quickly enough to be an effective player in his own end. John-Michael Liles has not been good and looks like he’s 36 after giving the B’s a shot in the arm when he first arrived at the trade deadline last year. Zdeno Chara and Carlo have been the bright spots, but let’s be honest- it’s a mediocre group. We all know it…counting on Kevan Miller to stabilize the blue line play is a pipe dream, too- he’s just not that player. That means some kind of change has got to happen at some point, and the change must be meaningful, otherwise we’re just papering over what is holding the Bruins back.

That’s on management to figure out.

Bruins prospect update #2: On Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson

Boston’s second of three second-round picks in 2015 (Brandon Carlo and Jeremy Lauzon were the others) is who we thought he is.

Much like Danton Heinen, if you go to a game Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, or ‘JFK’ is playing in expecting to be dazzled or entertained by a dynamic skater who makes flashy plays all over the ice, you’re likely going to be left wanting more. However, if you understand hockey and are able to look closely at the very same things that a young 18-year-old Patrice Bergeron (he and JFK were both drafted with the 45th overall selection in their respective draft years, as was Ryan Spooner in 2010) was doing right away in the NHL after making the Boston Bruins, you can understand why so many analysts are keen on the Boston University center.

JFK and his fellow Terriers are fresh off of a nice shutout win over Quinnipiac over the weekend in a game where the B’s prospect figured in all three BU goals- notching two helpers and then adding an empty-netter to complete a points trifecta. 2017-eligible goaltender Jake Oettinger notched back-to-back blankings and has carved out first-round status for himself in the early going after impressing last April at the U18s in Grand Forks. McAvoy was pretty good on the BU blue line as well- he hasn’t taken control like he did at the USA National Evaluation Camp in August, but the talent and NHL potential have both been clearly on display in film study thus far.

The weekend belonged to JFK as far as Bruins prospects go, however.

He’s such a slick, intelligent player- he was knocked in the past for lacking pace and a sense of urgency in his game, but in looking at JFK live and on film over the past two seasons, it’s not that he’s indifferent to tempo- he just thinks the game at such a high level- his anticipation is off the charts. As a result, he’s an economy of motion kind of player in that he’s not one who needs to move his feet like the Roadrunner to get where he’s going or make plays at speed.

It also speaks volumes that JFK earned an alternate/assistant captain’s ‘A’ in just his second NCAA season. After spending a weekend in Omaha in September, there are still quite a few Lancers fans who still wear his jersey to USHL games, and they remember his high-end two-way game fondly. Given how rapidly he’s developing, it’s hard to envision him spending much more time on Comm. Ave. but we’ll see how things go. We’re sure that head coach David Quinn and his BU coaching staff would love that not to be the case, but they are also realists- they figure JFK is probably not long for the NCAA and will soon turn pro with the B’s, so they’re pulling in some pretty impressive talent to fill the void his departure will create.

For now, Forsbacka-Karlsson is doing all of the little things that coaches at all levels love and value: production, smart three-zone play, effectiveness in the faceoff circle, and a mature, quiet style of leadership.

He has the look of a winner, and while the Bergeron comparisons are a tad premature, if you’re looking hard at similarities in the way JFK applies himself in action, it doesn’t take long to find them.

We began this post with the assertion that JFK is who we thought he is, and that is someone who has the look of a future NHLer who could evolve into a key contributor in Boston once he gets several pro campaigns under his belt.

The kid’s a keeper.

And now- here’s the updated scoring numbers for Boston’s amateur and pro prospects:

Amateur Prospects as of 10/24/16

Name/Team League GP G A PTS PIM
Jesse Gabrielle, Prince George WHL 8 6 6 12 8
Anders Bjork, Notre Dame HE-NCAA 6 5 6 11 2
Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, BU HE- NCAA 5 2 5 7 2
Trent Frederic, Wisconsin Big10- NCAA 4 2 4 6 2
Jakub Zboril, Saint John QMJHL 6 2 3 5 2
Zach Senyshyn, SSM OHL 7 4 1 5 10
Cameron Hughes, Wisconsin Big10- NCAA 4 1 3 4 4
Ryan Fitzgerald, BC HE-NCAA 6 1 3 4 4
Charlie McAvoy, BU HE-NCAA 5 0 4 4 4
Jeremy Lauzon, Rouyn-Noranda* QMJHL 2 1 2 3 0
Jack Becker, Sioux Falls USHL 9 2 1 3 8
Cameron Clarke, Ferris St. WCHA- NCAA 6 0 1 1 4
Ryan Lindgren, Minnesota Big10- NCAA 4 0 0 0 2
Ryan Donato, Harvard** ECAC- NCAA 0 0 0 0 0
Wiley Sherman, Harvard** ECAC-NCAA 0 0 0 0 0

* Jeremy Lauzon out indefinitely (UBI/concussion)

** ECAC regular season begins November 4, 2016

 

Pro and European Prospects

Name/Team League GP G A PTS PIM
Joona Koppanen, Ilves Jr. U20- Finland 11 7 9 16 2
Austin Czarnik, Providence AHL 2 2 1 3 0
Peter Cehlarik, Providence AHL 2 1 1 2 2
Emil Johansson, Djurgarden IF Sweden- Elite 8 0 2 2 6
Colton Hargrove, Providence AHL 4 1 0 1 0
Colby Cave, Providence AHL 5 1 0 1 4
Matt Grzelcyk, Providence AHL 5 0 1 1 2
Linus Arnesson, Providence AHL 5 0 1 1 0
Anton Blidh, Providence AHL 5 0 1 1 2
Jake DeBrusk, Providence AHL 5 0 1 1 2
Oskar Steen, Farjestad BK Sweden- Elite 11 1 0 1 4
Justin Hickman, Providence AHL 3 0 0 0 5
Sean Kuraly, Providence AHL 5 0 0 0 7
Chris Casto, Providence AHL 5 0 0 0 2
Zane McIntyre, Providence AHL 3 1 0 0.44 .977
Malcolm Subban, Providence AHL 4 0 3 4.50 .846
Dan Vladar, Providence AHL 2 1 0 2.88 .909
Brian Ferlin, Providence* AHL 0 0 0 0 0

*Brian Ferlin- injured

** Tyler Randell, Tommy Cross, Alex Grant > age 25- not listed

On Brandon Carlo and other random thoughts on the 2-1 Boston Bruins

The Boston Bruins got a big win in Winnipeg Monday night and took four out of six points in their season-opening roadie, sandwiching a loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs with victories over the Columbus Blue Jackets and Jets.

Rookie defenseman Brandon Carlo netted his first NHL goal in the triumph last night, unleashing a handheld Howitzer from the slot up under the crossbar that former UMass-Lowell superstar and Mike Richter Award-winning goalie Connor Hellebuyck was powerless to stop. Here’s the goal and it’s a beauty for a 1st NHL tally: watch the way he slides up from the point to make himself available, as Andy Brickley would say and then drives the puck up high where mama hides the cookies.

Carlo has been a nom du jour in Boston circles since the B’s picked him 37th overall in the 2015 draft’s second round. It was a selection acquired from the NY Islanders in the trade for Johnny Boychuk (Minnesota defenseman Ryan Lindgren was the other second-rounder taken 49th overall last June) but the choice originally belonged to the Philadelphia Flyers, who forked it over at the 2014 trade deadline in exchange for Andy MacDonald.

The Bruins certainly look to be getting the better end of the deal these days.

Not only is Carlo a 6-foot-5-inch defender but he’s just 19 years old and has looked far more poised and refined than we gave him credit for. There are sure to be ups and downs for any rookie defender, especially one who’s skating on the top pairing with Zdeno Chara north of 20 minutes per night, but given Carlo’s physical attributes and accomplished defensive/shutdown play coming into his first full pro hockey season, it’s a solid bet that the peaks will outnumber the valleys with this kid.

As for Chara- he’ll turn 40 this season but there’s no need to throw dirt on his playing career’s grave just yet. He’s been effective in the early going and seems to be thriving with his young partner, as both have the size and skill to keep opponents away from the prime scoring areas, while also having the talent and ability to provide offense. The Boston captain had a goal negated on replay last night, but then fired a puck into the Winnipeg empty net after Carlo’s third period tally gave the B’s the insurance they needed for David Pastrnak’s team-leading fourth goal to stand up as the winner.

Chara has been a popular scapegoat over the last two seasons because he’s an aging veteran who by virtue of his outstanding play for so many years, was expected to perform better than he has (especially after a right knee injury suffered early in the 2014-15 season- he’s not been the same mobility-wise and it’s the new normal with Chara). There’s truth in that, but when you improve the supporting cast around future Hall of Famers in the twilight of their career as Chara is, it can make all the difference. It’s only been three games, but Chara and Carlo make an excellent pairing because they complement one another nicely. Unless their play falls off a cliff, the young buck is in a spot to learn a great deal from the legend. It reminds me a lot of what Kyle McLaren was exposed to when he made the Bruins as an 18-year-old in 1995-96 and skated with Ray Bourque. B’s fans will hope that Carlo ends up bringing a great deal more than McLaren did, but the latter was a top-10 pick in 1995, so more was expected of him. Carlo’s contributions, impressive as they are, fall into a pleasant surprise and bonus category, simply because he was the 11th defenseman drafted in 2015. The reality with Carlo is- he wasn’t supposed to be in Boston at 19 and playing 23 minutes-plus while contributing at both ends (he’s a +7 on top of it all with a positive Corsi rating), but we’ll take it. Free chicken never tasted so good.

It’s time to own up to the fact that TSP was far too conservative in our projections of Carlo. There has been a lot of hype surrounding the pick, and hype isn’t always a good thing, but to the former Tri-City American’s credit, he took advantage of injuries to Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid to establish himself as being worthy of sticking in the NHL. Sometimes, that’s what it takes, because veterans, by virtue of their one-way contracts and experience, will keep positions on a roster over the younger guys because of the economics and options. In this case, Carlo likely would have gone down to Providence, or very well could have begun the season as the seventh defender and a healthy scratch if not for the loss of two right-shot defenders before the start of the new season.

Sometimes, a key factor to solving a larger problem is right in front of you. Sometimes, it takes unforeseen events like injuries to open that window of opportunity to see it, but to Carlo’s credit- he’s shown a lot of poise and maturity. Again- it’s very early in the season, but his play has given the GM options, even if and when Miller and McQuaid return to the lineup. What’s more, you have other impressive young talents in the system: Rob O’Gara is getting big league games under his belt, and looks like he belongs- even if he might not be making the tangible impact on Boston’s fortunes right now that Carlo has. Matt Grzelcyk is playing with speed and confidence down in Providence. Jakub Zboril is playing more like a top-15 pick should in Saint John, and there is a lot of excitement surrounding BU defender Charlie McAvoy now that his NCAA season is underway. He’s been relatively quiet thus far, but a breakout performance is coming- just you watch. Jeremy Lauzon is on the shelf due to a concussion suffered in recent action, and according to his team- there is no timetable for his return. That’s a downer.

There’s reason for excitement down the road, but as impressive as some of those names might be, they are still unknowns. Carlo, on the other hand, is making himself into more of a known quantity each night. And, given the way things are going, it looks like he’s earning more and more trust and a prominent role from the Boston coaching staff.

It was tough to see Boychuk go, but even the most ardent critics of the trade (and granted- it was far more about the timing of it all and the expectations for that 2014-15 Bruins club than anything else), have to be encouraged that Carlo is giving Boston some tangible returns so soon.

The book on Carlo is far from written, but as the old cliché goes: so far, so good.

***

The top line of Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and David Backes has been carrying the offense in the early going, and somethings got to change if the Bruins expect to keep adding W’s to the ledger.

Dominic Moore tallied his first goal as a Bruin off a nice feed from Tim Schaller, making his Boston debut. Fellow Providence College product Noel Acciari started the play by outworking the Winnipeg defender behind the net to chip it to Schaller who found Moore alone and off to Hellebuyck’s right for a quick snipe.

Unfortunately, the B’s have gotten bupkus from the David Krejci-Ryan Spooner connection, and that needs to change. Austin Czarnik excited watchers with his speed and hands in the first two games, but neither Matt Beleskey nor Jimmy Hayes could get anything going in terms of goal production, so right now- Claude Julien and his braintrust need to figure out how to shake things up and generate some secondary scoring.

Patrice Bergeron’s expected return will move Backes down to Krejci’s right wing and that will help. Danton Heinen hasn’t been bad- he’s made some neat plays, but as said on this space many times- his game is not flashy. We had someone on Twitter say “Heinen hasn’t caught my attention,” and that is precisely the point. He’s a cerebral, playmaking winger who has made several impressive passes and plays in the face of a big hit or effective forecheck, but because he’s not dynamic, few are noticing. Unfortunately for Heinen, in a results-oriented business, he’s expected to produce, so he’ll likely be moved down the roster (or perhaps down to Providence) to try and work out the kinks. There’s a lot of potential here, and at TSP we recognize it…but if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to see it, does it make a sound?

***

Third year forward David Pastrnak is getting. After. It.

He tallied his first career four-point game (2g, 2a) against Columbus and has scored in every game thus far.

On National Pasta Day, “Pasta” threw the puck to the net and it went in off of Winnipeg defenseman Toby Enstrom. It was a shot that was “al dente” if you please, but Pastrnak is breaking out as multiple analysts thought he might. He’s got to stay healthy, but he’s playing with top talent and he’s shown progress in his physical maturity to go with a work ethic that was already outstanding when he arrived.

At some point, he’ll hit some dry spells, but for now- Pastrnak is delivering the offense that this team so desperately needs, especially with the gaping void where the second and third lines are in the early going.

Of course, the downside to all of this success is the second contract and money that Pastrnak’s agent will be looking for, but all in due time.

***

Tuukka Rask was superb against Winnipeg after allowing the breakaway goal to Blake Wheeler. The former Bruin came out of the penalty box and got behind the Boston defense before twisting Rask around and burying the puck. Moore came back with the equalizer just 19 seconds later, but Rask got the job done after that, denying and frustrating the Jets attack. This is precisely what the Bruins need from their $7 million goaltender, so he’s 2-0 this season with room for improvement, but credit where due- he’s getting it done. Oh, and he became the first Bruins goalie in franchise history to post two assists in a game, so there’s that. Not bad. He only needs 13 more assists to break the single-season mark jointly held by Grant Fuhr and Tom Barrasso.

***

Krejci and Torey Krug are taking heat for their early season struggles. Fans know they had significant offseason surgery and their original timetables to return to the lineup were not decisive in pointing to them being ready to go on opening night, yet they made it.

Now, a great deal is expected of the duo and that’s a fair point to bring up, but the game is not played by robots who magically come back at 100 percent. If they weren’t ready, it would have meant even more untested guys in the lineup and there would have been critics coming out of the woodwork.

We’re allowing a grace period to take into account that neither player was able to do their standard offseason conditioning and training, coupled with a natural confidence test as they work through the surgically repaired hip and shoulder and get a more solid footing.

Neither is performing at their normal level, but now is not the time to pile on. We’ll give it more time and call it like we see it going forward. The good news for the team is that the record is 2-1 and not 0-3…it doesn’t alter the fact that the B’s aren’t getting the high level of play that fans are accustomed to, but that can all change. We tend to make perfection the enemy of good enough. That’s life and the Internet age with pro sports, but no one should be pressing the panic button yet.