Jeremy Lauzon: Then & Now

The Bruins prospects series rolls on with a player who might’ve been on the verge of graduating to NHL regular status when the 2019-20 season was put on pause. He’s an interesting profile to write because he’s finally paying some real dividends at the highest level.- KL

Jeremy Lauzon Then on Scouting Post:

Watch this Guy: Jeremy Lauzon July 24, 2015

So, why might Lauzon be the best between Jakub Zboril (13th overall) and Brandon Carlo (37th overall)? Like Zboril, Lauzon brings similar size and a mix of offense and defense. He’s more of a consistent competitor in my view, despite some reports of Boston’s top choice Zboril being “ultra-competitive” (I wouldn’t go that far based on what I saw in film study). Carlo is a massive rearguard who excels in a shutdown role, but I don’t know that he has the offensive skill/sense to be much of a consistent points producer. That leaves Lauzon as the best combination of the three- not as talented as Zboril or as big/defensively savvy as Carlo, but solid across the board and a gritty, hard-to-play against -d-man.

Prospect deep dive: Jeremy Lauzon March 7, 2016

Though not a truly exceptional player in any key area or specific hockey skill, Lauzon nevertheless is above average and more than capable at just about everything. He’s got good (Lauzon is about 6-1, 195 pounds) if not great (6-4, 220+ pounds or more is what is considered ideal in the modern NHL for D) size, and skates well though doesn’t provide dynamic speed and quickness. He’s a deft passer and effective goal scorer from the blue line, and has the ruggedness and smarts to neutralize opposition rushes and prevent players from getting to the front of his net.

Lauzon is putting up the best offensive numbers of his major junior career with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in his third season with them. He’s off his goals pace from a year ago (eight vs the 15 he netted in 2015) but with 44 points in 41 contests, Lauzon has already exceeded his 36 points set last season. He’s had to deal with some nagging lower body injuries that have limited his effectiveness in the new year after injuring himself after returning from Team Canada’s World Jr. Championship training camp in December. As one of the final cuts, Lauzon opened a lot of eyes around the CHL this year after being the 52nd overall selection by Boston last June.

Lauzon is a smart player who often does the little things in terms of maintaining his gaps, keeping the proper stick positioning and forcing opponents into committing early. He likes to go for hits in the open ice and will take every opportunity to finish his checks along the boards and remind guys in the other sweaters that he’s there. Though not a feared fighter, he’s willing to drop the gloves to defend teammates and plays a naturally rugged and aggressive defensive style that will translate well in Boston.

What’s Next For the Bruins- The Young D May 24, 2017

Jeremy Lauzon, LD, Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL)- Injuries impacted Lauzon’s season and he didn’t put up the kind of regular season numbers in his fourth major junior campaign as he did a year ago. However, when it comes to Lauzon, it’s not so much about the stats as it is the consistency and balance. Besides, he had an outstanding playoffs (albeit an earlier-than-expected exit at the hands of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens in the second round of the Quebec League run), posting 5 goals and 14 points in 13 games with the Huskies.

With Lauzon, less is more- he made Team Canada’s World Jr. Championship squad but wasn’t given as much ice time as some of the other defenders. Still- he scored a big goal in the gold medal game against USA, and seemed to make the most of the opportunities he had. He’s got enough skill to score, but he’s also a tenacious, even nasty competitor on the back end who makes forwards pay for the real estate they try to occupy. He’s not huge, but big enough- he’s got a great stick and impressive vision. We said it back after the 2015 draft, but as a shutdown guy, he’s not as effective as Carlo and as an offensive presence, he’s not quite as talented as Jakub Zboril, but if your idea of success is a player who can thrive over all 200 feet of the ice surface, then Lauzon is your man. He’s been with Providence since his playoffs ended, learning and benefiting from being around the team, but he wasn’t ready to go health-wise after playing hurt against Chicoutimi and the way things have gone for the Baby B’s has meant that he’s on the outside looking in for now. His time will come, though.

Jeremy Lauzon Now-

The now 6-2, 205-pound left-shot defenseman made his NHL debut in 2018-19, playing 16 games as an injury replacement and scoring his first NHL goal against Las Vegas. In 2019-20, he came up in the middle of the season and was just rounding into form, having played his way into the nightly lineup consistently when the season was put on pause.

The numbers- 2 goals and 1 helper in 35 games split between last season and the current one- aren’t anything to write home about, but there is room in his growth and development to be more of a point producer than he has thus far shown at age 22 (he turns 23 on Tuesday). Of course, he’s not been a point-getter in the AHL to date, and isn’t likely going to blossom into a 40-50-point guy in the NHL in his prime. But, like many young players who are in the process of breaking into the NHL while seeing limited minutes in a more specific role to place a priority on playing defense, Lauzon has been fine.

He competes hard, plays with good intelligence and vision, making the right decisions with and without the puck; Lauzon does his job with his mobility, a smart stick and has enjoyed the trust of head coach Bruce Cassidy and assistant coach Kevin Dean for his willingness to keep things simple.

Style analysis: 

Why does one defenseman who seems to have all the major league tools and who was a first-round draft pick have trouble establishing himself as an NHL regular, while another who was drafted later the same year and carries a significantly more modest skill set has leapfrogged the first on an organizational depth chart?

With Lauzon, we think it simply has to do with the fact that he’s a better defender and brings a high hockey IQ to the table, along with a certain poise and ability to do the little things to make plays in his own end.  He’s willing to lay out to block shots and he’ll drop the gloves. He’s not a heavyweight fighter, but he’s tough enough, and in Boston, that matters.

NHL defensemen who can both produce points and effectively defend their own zone are coveted commodities and franchise cornerstones- that’s why there are so few of them available across the NHL. That leaves the rest of the population at the position: players who might bring more offensive abilities to the table, while others are better at taking care of their own end. Gone are the pure specialists: the “offenseman”- a player who lines up behind the forwards to take faceoffs, but is essentially a fourth forward on the ice- taking the puck and rushing it up the ice, but lacking the instincts or wherewithal or both to provide capable defense, or the “shutdown” D- a euphemism for a big, powerful player who lacked the skills to skate and carry pucks out of danger, but could grapple and pin and obstruct players in the defensive zone effectively enough to justify their spot on an NHL roster.

Now, if you expect to play defense in the NHL and stay there, you had best be a hybrid 2-way defender or at least be an exceptional enough player in your own end with the mobility to angle, retrieve and win foot races to loose pucks. The modern NHL defenseman has to be able to skate, think, pass and understand how to play within his team’s structure and systems, or he won’t be long on the roster.

Lauzon isn’t fancy, but he’s just tough- able to get up and down the ice, make the first pass and brings a tenacity and competitiveness that endears him to the coaches and teammates he plays with. His best junior season was a 50-point campaign, so his offensive numbers at the highest level will be modest at best, but Lauzon’s value transcends pure point production. He’s going to eventually develop into a player who can play a good chunk of minutes as a steadying influence on the back end.

In hindsight, it looks like we were overly optimistic in thinking he could be the best of the three D Boston took in 2015, and to Brandon Carlo’s credit, he’s taken the bull by the horns to establish himself as an anchor on the B’s blueline, while coming off his best offensive season to date with 19 points in 67 games. But Carlo is also a physical specimen at 6-5 whose mobility opened the door for him earlier in Boston than most, and he took full advantage. Lauzon, on the other hand, has been on a longer (and expected) developmental path. He can’t match Carlo’s physical gifts in terms of pure size, strength and reach, but he’s not far off at being able to contain opponents and neutralize scoring chances.

Outlook:

Lauzon’s persistence has paid off, not only in the form of an increased role with the big club, but with a two-year contract extension at a bargain rate of $850k per that will take him through the 21-22 season. He might even be in danger of being the one Bruin that new NHL franchise Seattle could walk away with in next June’s expansion draft. That might be putting the cart before the horse, but with his experience, cap hit and potential, Lauzon just might be the kind of player who makes perfect sense for GM Ron Francis and Co. if he plays at least 40 games for the B’s in 20-21.

If not, then he’s on the up and up as a player who should be able to slot into Boston’s top-6 going forward. He’s got just enough skill, a good amount of smarts and plenty of ruggedness to make it as a solid role player and maybe something more. It’s not overly complicated when it comes to figuring out if players will earn more NHL ice time or not- if the coaches trust them, then they’ll play.

It might not always make sense to media and fans who will look at other shiny, flashier objects in the system and say, “Why not him?”  Well, because if the flashy guy turns pucks over and can’t establish a solid level of the t-word with the team’s coaches, he’s not going into the game.

Lauzon won’t win a lot of style contests, but in the end, style doesn’t always win hockey games. As the season abruptly ended in March, the coaches trusted him because he proved that he is trustworthy.

Sometimes, that’s really all you need.

***

First NHL goal on former B’s 1st-rounder & prospect Malcolm Subban from late 2018

Squares off vs Matthew Tkachuk- noogie time:

 

A preseason fight vs the NJ Devils’ Nathan Bastian

 

Off the top of the head: Jakub Zboril

Jakub Zboril, D

6’/201

Boston’s 1st choice, 13th overall in 2015 NHL Entry Draft

Current Team: Providence Bruins (AHL)

Previous Team: Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)

Strengths: Outstanding, NHL-caliber skater with speed, balance, agility; can get off the mark quickly, has a powerful glide and exhibits nifty foot work to change direction efficiently. Good puckhandler who can make the first pass and uses his feet and stick to break pucks out of his own end consistently. Hard shot- a missile that he can drive from the point through traffic on net. Enjoys the physical aspect of his position: engages with opposing puck carriers and will put his body through their hands to disrupt the rush. A willing hitter who opened eyes in his draft season for his embrace of physicality, and as he gains experience, is getting smarter and more effective in his ability to end plays along the walls.

Weaknesses: Vision/hockey instincts are pretty average; doesn’t always make the right reads/decisions and not an overly creative puck distributor. Play away from puck is a continued work in progress; still developing 360-degree awareness and d-zone coverages to prevent opponents from finding soft seams and exploiting time/space.

Overall analysis: Boston’s top pick five years ago has been slow to develop and might not ever get there (at least with the organization that drafted him), which makes him one of the more polarizing prospects in the system. Like others who have come before him and those who will surely follow, he is a victim more of expectations than out of a failure to perform. While his development has not been as rapid as other 2015 peers who were chosen after he was, Zboril has taken positive steps, even if he’s been unable to do more than play sparingly in just two NHL games with the B’s.

As part of a very strong draft class, Zboril was solidly in the second tier of defensemen available after Noah Hanifin, Ivan Provorov and Zach Werenski, all of whom were drafted in the first eight selections and have gone on to become established NHL players. Zboril’s junior teammate, Thomas Chabot, was drafted five spots later at 18th overall, and has emerged as a top tier player, which has added to the disappointment of a slow development process in Providence.

Luckily for the Bruins, Brandon Carlo is the defender from the 2015 draft who has been able to become a staple supporting cast member, and while Zboril doesn’t have Carlo’s size, he’s more of a 2-way threat and hybrid style player that it is hard to account for why things have not come together for him. The irony in the criticism Zboril gets on Internet message boards and Twitter is that at the time he was drafted, he was the one player of Boston’s three first-round selections at 13-15 who was the accepted commodity at his draft slot, while Jake DeBrusk and Zach Senyshyn were the players who raised the most controversy given where they were projected.

Five years later, it is obvious that Boston should have gotten more production out of those three selections, with only DeBrusk currently a full-time roster player, while others selected after 15 have gone on to become stars. Having said that, Zboril just turned 23 in February- he has time to establish himself as an NHL player with the B’s, even if time is running out. He just played out the third year of his entry-level contract, and should receive a qualifying offer. He’s been consistent in Providence- posting 19 points in each of his three AHL seasons. The offensive production that looked to translate from junior play probably isn’t going to be there, but he’s shown improvement as a defender since turning pro, and he can leverage that into a decent NHL role in the right situation.

Projection: The days of projecting the left-shot Zboril as a top-3 NHL D are long over, but barring some kind of miracle, he has the tools to be a solid 5/6/7 and role player at the top level. Granted, that’s not going to make many celebrate him given who Boston could’ve had at 13, but he still has it in him to establish himself in the NHL as a solid complementary/depth player who could enhance any defense with his mobility and skills.

His playing style and game reminds us of another heralded junior defenseman who put up points and was expected to be a 2-way NHL star. After being a top-10 pick in his first draft, Nick Boynton had to reinvent himself as more of a defense-first, supporting D, going on to play more than 600 NHL games and raising the Stanley Cup at the end of his career with the Chicago Blackhawks. We’re not saying Zboril is the next Boynton, but there are some similarities here, and at age 23, he’s far from washed up- Boynton was 22 when he finally cracked Boston’s lineup to stay. For a more modern example, Matt Grzelcyk was 23 when he became an NHL regular, but he did it after playing just one full season of pro in the AHL before making the jump to Boston to stay.

Right now- Zboril is at a personal and professional crossroads: can he finally make the cut in his fourth season, or will he go back down to the AHL, and essentially see the window close on a possible Bruins career? When you look at his physical gifts and playing style, there isn’t any clear explanation for why Zboril has failed to develop into an every day NHL player by now, but nevertheless, this is where we are.

At the very least, he’s shown improvement in each of his three seasons, so he’s got a chance to make it in year four- he can absolutely skate, pass and shoot- if he can put it all together, the ability is there to be a player in the NHL.

 

SportsNet pre-draft clip of Zboril- “expected to go in the middle of the first round”- yes, that was the projection, and that’s where he went.

 

TSP friend Anthony Kwetkowski/Bruins Network is a believer in Zboril, and talked about him at length in arecent podcast at around the 1:07:45 mark. Here’s a video interview he did with him last season:

 

 

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.

Continue reading

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.

Don Sweeney named NHL GM of Year

The 2019 NHL Awards Show happened tonight in Las Vegas and Don Sweeney captured the hardware as the league’s General Manager of the Year as voted on by his peers and a smaller/more select panel of media broadcasters.

Sweeney earned it with a steady, methodical build of the Bruins from an organization that was in disarray at the end of the 2015 season, to coming within one game of a Stanley Cup championship four years later.

To be sure, it hasn’t been perfect- you had the Zac Rinaldo misstep right out of the gate, followed by the well-intentioned but ultimately fruitless Jimmy Hayes trade that sent Reilly Smith to Florida. And of course- you still have people twitching online about the 2015 draft, when  the B’s could’ve had Mathew Barzal and Kyle Connor. Or is it Thomas Chabot? Or Travis Konecny or Sebastian Aho or (insert the name of every player taken after the B’s sandwiched Jake DeBrusk between Jakub Zboril and Zach Senyshyn who has had some NHL success to date) but we digress…

The successes, by and large, have been prolific.

Continue reading

Game 7: Win or Die

Tuukka Rask (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Well, here we are.

It’s Game 7 at TD Garden- last hockey game of the 2018-19 season for the honor of lifting the Stanley Cup overhead.

Boston Bruins are at home against the St. Louis Blues, who had the higher-seeded B’s on the ropes but couldn’t close the deal in Game 6. Now, it’s time to settle the matter of who will lay final claim to the title of world champions.

The B’s took a furious flurry of punches by the Blues in the early minutes of Game 6, with a frenzied, frothing-at-the-mouth crowd of St. Louis faithful hoping to see their team capture its first-ever Stanley Cup victory on home ice. Alas for them, Tuukka Rask and the more experienced Bruins had other plans.

Brad Marchand’s first period 5-on-3 goal drew first blood and the Bruins never really looked back after that, getting the winner from an unlikely source in defenseman Brandon Carlo, whose point shot skipped off the ice and past Jordan Binnington to make it 2-0 in an eventual 5-1 drubbing. Even rookie buzzsaw forward Karson Kuhlman got into the act, the undrafted free agent netting his first career playoff goal with a laser beam at the perfect time. It doesn’t hurt that Bruce Cassidy and his coaching staff are pushing all the right buttons.

At the other end of the spectrum, it didn’t help that the St. Louis Post Dispatch accidentally pushed out some content meant for publication in the event that the Blues took care of business at home. That kind of an unforced error seems inconceivable in this day and age, and yet- it showed the decided lack of experience St. Louis has as opposed to Boston when it comes to the matter of winning championships. Whatever…those silly gaffes didn’t play a role in the big win the visiting team leveled on the Blues, but it does show how thirsty that team’s fans are for a Stanley Cup- something they haven’t enjoyed in the 52 years of the franchise’s existence.

So, now it ends. A new champion will be crowned tonight, and the momentum is with the Bruins.

Unlike Game 5, when the B’s had lost Game 4 to the Blues on the road, the home team is returning with the confidence of a big victory under the belt, and the experience factor may be just too much for the younger, upstart Blues to overcome. After all, Zdeno Chara is about to appear in his NHL-record 14th seventh game.

And the Bruins are no strangers to Game 7’s in the Stanley Cup Final- they went the distance eight years ago in Vancouver.  Different team, different situation, but the core of Boston’s veteran team saw it and lived it- they’ll know precisely what they’re up against tonight.  Only…they’ll have the pure energy of their fanbase behind them as the B’s play in the first SCF Game 7 in franchise history. The late, great Stevie Ray Vaughan will be watching from above, and he knows…nobody is gonna be a-knockin’ when that TD Garden gets a-rockin’.

The Bruins will be ready when the puck drops tonight and with an atmosphere reminiscent of the epic 1-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning to close out the 2011 Eastern Conference Final, the Black and Gold will have a full wind at their backs.

Last week, the Omaha Lancers of the USHL held the team’s main tryout camp at Ralston Arena in Nebraska, and a familiar face was on hand in our building to watch his son make the team. 2001-born forward Cam Recchi is a chip off the old block- looks like his dad and plays like him, too (which is great news for the Lancers). Cam was 10 years old when he watched as Mark lifted the Stanley Cup over his head one last time (as a player- he’s won 2 more since as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins organization) and skated off into the sunset with three rings.

As the time ticked down on Boston’s 2-1 Game 5 loss on the big screen televisions in the Ralston Arena’s Side Room lounge where Lancers players and their families gathered to watch a clash of titans, I stood next to Rex, one of the most beloved Bruins players in his three-season run to finish his Hockey Hall of Fame career.

“You guys lost Game 5 in Vancouver- what was the feeling going back to Boston for Game 6?”, I asked.

“We knew we were going to win the Cup,” Recchi said without missing a beat. “Vancouver was at their breaking point. They were worn down- it took everything out of them to beat us in that game, and we could sense they had very little left and momentum was in our favor.”

Swing it did, and the 2011 Bruins decisively beat the Canucks in two straight to secure the sixth Stanley Cup in franchise history, doing so on the road. The script didn’t quite play out the same way, but yet here we are- Game 7…winner take all.

“They’ve got this,” said Recchi as we walked away when the final horn sounded with the Blues up 3-2 in the series. “There are just too many experienced warriors in that room, and you can’t say enough about what that does for you.”

The Bruins are back home and in familiar territory, having beaten the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7 of their opening round series way back in April, which seems like a lifetime ago. The only thing is- they’ve had three more series of battles to hone their skills to a keen edge.

The Blues have done well to get this far- they are the heavy, nasty team we were all told they are. They’ve given the veteran club some serious punches, but as the old saying goes, If you’re going to kill the king, you’d better not miss.

The Blues took their best shot in Game 5 and had a chance to close it out in Game 6, but their trajectory went wide…and miss they did.

Tonight, the Blues are in the crosshairs.

Let the final game begin.

Meet me in St. Louie, Louie…B’s blow ’em out 7-2

14 down, 2 wins to go.

The Boston Bruins sandwiched dominant wins between an OT loss in games 1-3 of the Stanley Cup final series, smashing the home St. Louis Blues by a 7-2 score Saturday, including 4 power play goals, a first with Torey Krug’s 4-point night- the only time a Bruin has tallied that number in a final game, and another top effort in net from Tuukka Rask.

Krug has been unbelievable in the playoffs, as has been Rask. I’s ironic that the two most polarizing players for Bruins fans are the ones who are the most deserving of Conn Smythe consideration should the B’s close the deal- and remember- 14 wins doesn’t win squat. Krug has been a man on a mission- always a player motivated by doubters and skeptics who just look at his smaller size and make judgments about his ability to be an impact NHL D. The same people who give big, mobile defensemen who are complete and total liabilities with the puck on their stick have little to no time for Krug, but his play has been so good this postseason, that even the most obtuse of haters out there have no choice but to be silent. It’s been great to see. Ditto Rask. He’s a world class talent in net who hasn’t always played like it, but to his complete and total credit- he’s thus far taken his game to the highest level, and that’s the difference.

Now, on to some other observations about Game 3…

The B’s got the scoring going when Patrice Bergeron tipped home a textbook point shot from Krug, the first of four man advantage strikes. In fact, the B’s logged just 2:06 on the four power plays they had, because they scored on a perfect 4 of 4 shots- 3 surrendered by Jordan Binnington and one final PPG given up by Jake Allen to Marcus Johansson late in the game.

The Blues have a problem. They don’t have the talent to match the Bruins player-for-player, nor do they have the experience this B’s club has. So, they have to play a tough, physical game- but the Blues were running around trying to level kill shots all night, and the end result was catastrophic for them: they can’t hit and intimidate if they cross the line and go to the box, because Boston’s lethal power play will absolutely make them pay…and it has, with PP goals in every game thus far. Game 3’s special teams play for the B’s was sublime, though- they became the first NHL playoff team to tally 4 power play markers in the SCF since the Colorado Avalanche did it against John Vanbiesbrouck and the Florida Panthers in 1996. For perspective, Charlie McAvoy was still over a year away from being born when that happened. The Boston PKers did surrender their first power play goal to the Blues in the series- a shot that hit Brandon Carlo and deflected in (both goals against Rask ticked in off the bodies/skates of B’s D).

With Matt Grzelcyk out of action thanks to a head hit from Oskar Sundqvist (suspended for Game 3), John Moore was next man up and played well. Although he’s been criticized for not having the anticipated impact when Don Sweeney signed him last July, Moore perfectly illustrates the disparity in depth the B’s enjoy over their Western Conference counterparts. Moore kept it simple and used his mobility to good effect, playing a strong defense-first game. The B’s are likely to be without Grzelcyk for the remainder of the series and Kevan Miller is done as well- yet the team’s D remains capable and up to the task.

Although Brad Marchand has yet to get untracked offensively in this series (and he was atrocious in Boston’s 3-2 OT loss in Game 2), Bergeron and David Pastrnak had nice bounce-back games.

But it is Boston’s third and fourth lines that have been the difference and exposed the disparity in depth between the clubs. After Charlie Coyle buried a perfect Johansson pass (secondary assist to Danton Heinen, who had his best game of the series) for his eighth goal of the postseason to make it 2-0, Sean “Clutch” Kuraly stunned the home crowd with a five-hole shot with just 8 seconds or so left in the opening frame to give the B’s a 3-0 lead. Kudos to Joakim Nordstrom, who, though entered the zone ahead of the puck, was not ruled offside because Blues D Joel Edmundson (man, has he been bad this series…P.U.!!!) carried it in…took it away from Edmundson and kicked it to Kuraly who trailed the play and buried the shot.

Blues hero Binnington was grody in Game 3…giving up 5 goals on 19 shots before getting the hook. He’s been beatable this series and isn’t playing with the kind of lights-out mentality that his team needs right now. Allen went in after Krug’s power play marker made it 5-1, but the B’s didn’t get much going in terms of shots until later on in the affair.

Noel Acciari even got into the scoring act- scoring the sixth goal into an empty net. He’s got one more goal in this series than does Blues sniper Jaden Schwartz…just saying. Ryan O’Reilly…sleeping giant? Let him sleep.

Overall, it was a statement game from the Bruins- on paper, we all know they are the better team. Saturday night at the Enterprise Center, they went out and proved it.

Bruins in their 3rd Stanley Cup Final since 2011

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

How did we get here?

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

Now, onto some thoughts on the players:

Continue reading

What, us worry?

Chara4

Zdeno Chara (photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

You mean to tell us that since two critical veterans went down with significant injuries, the Bruins are 3-0-2 with 8 points out of 10?

And that, dear readers, is why they play the games.

Given the Boston Bruins’ recent run of wins, welcome news despite not having two of the franchise’s faces out for at least 4 weeks or longer: captain Zdeno Chara and defacto captain Patrice Bergeron. The duo of future Hockey Hall of Famers are more than likely at the top of a short list of players that if you polled fans before the season, were the guys the team could least afford to lose for extended stretches of the 2018-19 campaign.

And yet, as the Thanksgiving weekend comes to a close, the B’s pulled out two close wins, a 2-1 OT contest against the underachieving Pittsburgh Penguins at home on Friday and then Saturday night’s 3-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens, helping Boston secure the sixth-best record in the NHL to date. Of course, few would have guessed that the Jeff Skinner-led Buffalo Sabres would be sitting atop the league standings as November comes to a close, but that’s a story for another day.

In the meantime, let us focus on the Bruins and how they’ve put themselves in position to remain competitive despite suffering through some personnel setbacks that would cripple many teams in any league.

Continue reading