Brief thoughts on OT loss to Edmonton

I was in and out for this one, so not going to publish a complete game recap (and sorry for missing the win over Florida, so maybe I’ll do a twofer of limited observations in this post) of Edmonton’s 3-2 overtime victory in Peter Chiarelli’s return to the TD Garden (his club is 2-0 against Boston, taking the season sweep).

The Boston Bruins played well enough to win this one, battling back from an 0-2 deficit on goals from Matt Beleskey (a flukey play that happened because of his sheer work and hustle) and Brad Marchand, who wired a snipe top cheddar to tie it late in regulation for his team-leading 15th goal.

First period breakdowns led to goals by Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (that one happening when Zdeno Chara lost an edge in the corner by Boston’s net and gave the puck up to Eberle.) The Bruins actually caught a break when Eberle scored what should have been his second goal of the game but the refs had blown the whistle and assessed Marchand with a hooking call. It didn’t make sense, and should have given the Oil a 3-1 lead, but instead, gave Boston a chance to salvage a point. See? The officiating isn’t always out to get the Bruins…they lucked out on this one.

So, without further ado, here are some observations. I’ll post a prospects update in the morning. Sorry for the lack of posts, but my other life has intervened of late, so given that I’m not getting paid to do this blog, you can appreciate where the priorities lie.

Beleskey is a true Bruin. Yes, he only has 4 goals as the B’s approach the 30-game mark, but man- the guy is a gamer. Tonight, his goal was vintage  Beleskey as he took the puck to the net and from beside the left post chipped it in at  Cam Talbot, who had completely stymied the Bruins on some great scoring chances. The puck seemed to skip over Talbot’s left pad, then dropped in behind him and when he tried to close his right leg, he pushed the puck over the goal line. Ugly? You betcha. Will Boston take it? Absolutely! Sometimes, you just need to make your own luck and after a season in which Beleskey hasn’t had a whole lot of bounces go his way, that one was a gift from some sympathetic Hockey Gods, perhaps.

Curious decision by Claude Julien to go with the combo of Landon Ferraro-Ryan Spooner- Torey Krug in the 3-on-3 overtime. Edmonton won the faceoff and possessed the puck the entire time, as none of Boston’s players could make a play in the defensive zone. Andrej Sekera’s winning goal happened because Ferraro got stationary and when an initial shot from the veteran defenseman hit Krug, Sekera motored around Ferraro, who was puck watching (as NESN’s Andy Brickley  correctly observed) and fired it into the net behind Jonas Gustavsson.

Boston fans immediately took to Twitter to lambaste Julien for not having at least one (if not more) of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand or David Krejci out there to start the OT. They’re right. But, I can also live with the decision, as costly as it was and here’s why. Some of the same fans lighting the coach up are probably the same folks who have jumped on the coach in the past for playing favorites or sticking with veterans over some of the younger, more exciting players like Spooner. If he wins the draw and the Bruins take it the other way and score, Julien looks like a genius. It didn’t work out, and so we’re left with a good teaching point here- the next time Julien is rolling out some of the savvier veterans in OT and they are perhaps getting beaten by the other guys, you’ll remember that he wasn’t averse to giving the kiddos a shot in the past. Hey- the other guys wearing blue and orange get a vote, too- they made the plays and won the game. There’s no guarantee that Bergeron and/or Marchand, Krejci would have played it any differently. But of course- when you’re on the couch or sitting in front of the computer- it’s pretty easy to wag the finger and talk about what Julien should have done. I’m not saying you’re wrong for thinking that, but I guess I don’t have as big an issue with the roll of the dice he made as others do. Spooner and Ferraro have the speed/quickness and skill to excel in the extra space afforded them by the 3-on-3 format. Unfortunately, they got outplayed by Edmonton’s starting trio. It happens.

Speaking of Marchand…wow! That was just a wicked, wicked shot and goal on a guy in Cam Talbot who was having a career night. He almost stole the game in regulation, so B’s fans should be happy their team got a point out of it, and great setup pass by Ferraro to give Marchand the time and space to rip that one into the upper corner. He’s a snipah!

Frank Vatrano is finding ways to contribute, even if the pucks aren’t going in for him of late. He negated an icing call with a Charlie Hustle play in the first period and you can see the way he recognizes instant openings in the unfolding play and takes off up the ice. That’s a good sign, even if he might not quite be ready for primetime and could be sent back down to Providence at some point. So far, though, I have to think the coaches are fine with the lack of production because he’s doing the little things that are usually out of place for a rookie. Now, that’s not to say he’s got it figured out, but the kid from Western Mass. has been good. Better than good. Everything he does this season in the NHL should be gravy, but when David Pastrnak returns to action, I’m thinking that Vatrano might be headed back down I-95. We’ll see.

And on that note about the little things- Jimmy Hayes continues to struggle. He’s a lumbering skater who like most big men tends to glide and it often looks like he’s not trying even if not necessarily the case. Unfortunately for the Dorchester native, he’s also not getting many pucks to the net, so his issues are magnified. I think Hayes needs to simplify his approach…stop gripping the stick so tight. Just go to the net, get the stick down look for a simple play and not try to make it all back up on one single shift. Hayes is too talented not to be doing more for this club, but it looks like the pressure is getting to him.

Not a great night for Jonas Gustavsson…he wasn’t terrible, but when the other guy stands on his head, the guy seeing less action’s mistakes are magnified. He was giving up fat rebounds all night and the one to Nugent-Hopkins was particularly egregious. With Tuukka Rask playing his best hockey of the season, Gus might be taking a seat for a while. Cam Talbot was outstanding- if not for him, the B’s could have run the Oilers out of the building because they played well enough to do that if some of those quality shots he nullified had gone in. Sometimes, it’s okay to give the other goalie credit and admit that this just wasn’t your night.

The Oilers are for real. This was their sixth win in a row, the second over Boston this season and first in TD Garden since Mariusz Czerkawski scored a hat trick against his old club and Curtis Joseph blanked the B’s in a 6-0 shellacking on November 7, 1996. B’s were bound to lose one to the Oil on home ice eventually.

I’ve killed Kevan Miller on this blog quite a bit this season, but I’ve also tried to be fair. Sometimes, it’s easy to pile on him, because he’s getting more ice time than a player of his caliber should receive. I don’t say this to be condescending to Miller, but back in the day, the B’s were forced to play Hal Gill in a bigger (no pun intended) role than he was suited for and it put the spotlight on him for negativity. Miller had one particular memorable play tonight when Krug made a bad pinch up into the offensive zone with the game tied, allowing what looked like a potential odd-man rush for the Oilers the other way. Miller shut it down by taking a good angle on the Edmonton puck carrier and snuffing out the rush. It was one play, and I’m sure there were some mistakes out there too (and there will be many more of them over the course of the season, thank you) but in a game I didn’t admittedly see all of, the B’s had bigger issues than Miller tonight. Chara’s mistakes are proving pretty costly in their own right, for example. But that’s a story for another time- even with some of the gaffes from the captain, the B’s are screwed without him- warts and all.

And on that note, I’m signing off. Thanks for reading.

 

Boulevard of Broken Dreams- Bruins drafts 2007-09

2009The While working out this morning I was listening to my sleaze rock/hair metal playlist and a song by Finnish glam band Hanoi Rocks provided some inspiration. Here’s what sprang up from one of Michael Monroe (Matti Fagerholm) and Co.’s signature songs.

Three years of draft futility didn’t have an immediate impact on the Boston Bruins’ fortunes, but after winning the Stanley Cup in 2011, the lack of production from 17 total picks from 2007-09 has caught up to the team. Blown drafts are nothing new to NHL clubs- every single team has had at least one in their history, with a surprising number of clubs faring poorly over a stretch. It happens. However, in the old days (read: pre salary cap era), richer clubs could at least attempt to buy back draft mistakes through free agency (didn’t work so great for the late 90’s New York Rangers). Now, with the importance of having impact talent on cheaper ELC deals and the necessity of building a quality supporting cast from within, nobody can afford to string together multiple busted drafts as Boston did early in former GM Peter Chiarelli’s tenure.

Here’s a quick look at three bad draft years with hindsight being 20/20 and who the B’s should have taken when they had the chance.

2007

Background: After striking it rich in Vancouver a year earlier with Phil Kessel and Tuukka Rask (Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand had yet to pay off, but that haul made 2006 the best single draft class in about 26 years when the team strung together two brilliant summers in 1979-80) the B’s regressed under coach Dave Lewis, missing the playoffs in Chiarelli’s first Boston season. The eighth pick put them out of range for the guys they reportedly wanted, but a top-10 selection nonetheless came with high expectations.

Who they wanted: London Knights forward Sam Gagner (Edmonton) and the Halifax Mooseheads’ Jakub Voracek (Columbus) both went off the board in the immediate picks prior to Boston’s selection. Gagner made the NHL at 18 but has stagnated, while Voracek was traded to the Flyers and has emerged as one of the league’s better offensive players over the past three seasons.

Who they took: Zach Hamill, C Everett Silvertips. Ouch. At the time, I felt Hamill was a solid pick because he had just led the WHL in scoring at age 18 while playing in a defense-heavy system under former NHL coach Kevin Constantine. What I and most didn’t know is that Hamill had some personality/off-ice challenges that made him a risky pick right off the bat. Suffice to say that his lack of speed and strength were big enough hurdles to overcome and he just didn’t have enough skill to overcome that. He finished his Bruins career in parts of three NHL seasons with just 20 games and four assists; he was traded to Washington for Chris Bourque in 2012, but never saw another NHL shift.

Who they should have taken: Logan Couture, C Ottawa 67’s. Double ouch. The San Jose Sharks knew a deal of the century when they saw one and jumped up to the ninth overall selection behind Boston to grab the OHL star. The All-Star has played in 379 games entering the 2015-16 NHL season with 139 goals and 287 points plus another 18 goals, 36 points in 56 career playoff games. Injuries have interfered with Couture’s production, but for the most part, he’s been everything you want in a top-10 pick and more. Couture here over Jamie Benn is based purely on how the players were projected in 2007, not now. More on Benn below…

The best available player (to Boston) of that draft:  Jamie Benn, C- Dallas Stars 5th round, 129th overall. Benn is exhibit A for how some players don’t hit their stride until after drafted at 17-18. In a re-draft today, Benn goes behind Patrick Kane, and maybe even edges him out for the top pick given his production of late- I’ll leave that debate to others. To know that the Bruins drafted Hamill, Tommy Cross before him is rubbing salt in the wounds. Hey- it’s not all bad, at least German bust Dennis Reul was selected with the pick immediately *after* Benn in the 5th round and not before (the Bruins didn’t have picks in the 3rd or 4th rounds).

The picks: 8- Hamill (20gp, 4 assists), 35- Cross (0 NHL gp), 130- Reul (0 NHL gp), 159- Alain Goulet (0 NHL gp), 169- Radim Ostricil (0 NHL gp), 189- Jordan Knackstedt (0 NHL gp)

The verdict: With 2 picks in the top-35 and just 20 games to show for six selections overall, this is one of Boston’s all-time poorest drafts. Yes, 2007 was not a great year, but imagine what this team would look like if they took Couture or Benn in the 1st and then P.K. Subban in the 2nd.

2008

Background: The B’s surged into the playoffs late and gave a good fight to the Montreal Canadiens in the opening round, going down in seven games but making it fun to be a Bruins fan again. With the 16th overall pick in what was considered a better draft in Ottawa than the year before, the team was looking at a pick with a longer-term payoff.

Who they wanted: Joe Colborne. The Bruins scouted the AJHL standout heavily that season, and so it was no real surprise that they ended up with him, as the team was essentially bidding against themselves. Not many clubs were reported to be as high on the talented but enigmatic center as Boston was.

Who they took: Joe Colborne, C Camrose Kodiaks. No surprise as said above– he was a talented gamble of a player who was controversial for questions over his fire and competitive drive because of his family’s wealth. I always felt that criticism was unfair and while Colborne has reached the NHL after being traded away from Boston and Toronto, he’s not anywhere near the player the Bruins thought they were getting. They moved him in spring of 2011 with picks to the Leafs for veteran defenseman Tomas Kaberle. In a good news/bad news scenario, the B’s won the Cup but in spite of Kaberle not because of him. He helped, but wasn’t the player Boston hoped for. Luckily, neither Colborne, nor the picks the B’s traded have come back to bite them.

Who they should have taken: Jordan Eberle, RW Regina Pats. Eberle’s star has fallen a bit in recent seasons, but he’s still the kind of speedy scoring forward that would have been a fine fit with the B’s.

The best available player (to Boston) of that draft: Derek Stepan, C Shattuck St. Mary’s. The Rangers got a steal with him at 51st overall…the B’s opted for speedy but hockey IQ-challenged Max Sauve instead in the second round. Capitals defenseman John Carlson (27th) is also in the discussion.

Hit: Michael Hutchinson, G Barrie Colts- 77th overall pick in the 3rd round was a good one as he emerged to help lead the Winnipeg Jets to their first playoff berth since the club moved to Canada and overall since 2008 when they were the Atlanta Thrashers. In fairness to Boston, he was inconsistent, alternating in Providence between brilliance and profound mediocrity, and never established himself as a No. 1 at that level in three seasons as a Bruins prospect, but just think how different their season would have been last year with ‘Hutch’ as the backup instead of Niklas Svedberg.

The picks: 16- Colborne (160gp 19-43-62-83- TOR, CGY), 47- Sauve (1gp), 77- Hutchinson (41gp 23-11-5, .918), 97- Jamie Arniel (1gp), 173- Nicolas Tremblay (0 NHL gp), 197- Mark Goggin (0 NHL gp)

The verdict: Colborne at least made it and helped the Bruins acquire a small championship piece, but nothing to show for Hutchinson and lack of success anywhere else (Former OHL forward Rob Flick– acquired for Sauve- was not re-signed) makes this another draft failure for Boston.

2009

Background: As the B’s headed to Montreal for the draft they had plans to make a splash by trading disgruntled star Kessel, reportedly to the Leafs for Tomas Kaberle and a top-10 selection. Apparently Leafs GM Brian Burke didn’t get the memo about the pick and even thought the Bruins were going to give them their first-rounder (25th overall), but this is hearsay. Bottom line- the deal fell through though Burke would pay a higher price for Kessel a few months later, while Boston held their first and hoped to do something with it after a great regular season and second-round playoff flameout vs. the upstart Carolina Hurricanes.

Who they wanted: Rumors abound that the B’s would have used that Leafs first-rounder on OHL power forward Zack Kassian. At the time, he was being compared to Lucic as a player with the physical prowess and skill to make a difference in all facets of the game. It hasn’t happened for him yet, and B’s fans can be glad that Kaberle and Kassian were not the trade returns the team got for Kessel, though Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton and their ultimate fates as Bruins are a discussion for another day.

Who they took: Jordan Caron, RW Rimouski Oceanic. Sometimes, a player looks like absolutely the right fit and things just don’t work out. Anyone who says they questioned Caron at the time is probably writing revisionist history, because though his skating issues were documented, Caron also had some of the better hands and pure finishing skills of anyone in the draft class. He even made an early impact in Boston, coming up during the 2010-11 season and flashing some impressive scoring on a few plays. Unfortunately, he never seemed to put it together during his time in Providence, and when in Boston, his play (and Claude Julien’s confidence in him) regressed to the point that by 2014-15, he was a popular internet message board whipping boy. When Caron was dealt to Colorado for Max Talbot, most looked back at the pick and felt like he was the can’t miss prospect who did exactly that.

Who they should have taken:  Ryan O’Reilly, C Erie Otters. The 33rd overall pick made the NHL right away and developed into the gritty, two-way forward and heavy player that suits the Boston style so well. He has since been traded to Buffalo and landed in hot water with the law recently, but on the ice, he’s tough to play against and can provide timely scoring, something Caron was never able to do.

The picks: 25- Caron (153gp 12-16-28-78), 86- Ryan Button (0 NHL gp), 112- Lane MacDermid (21gp 2-2-4-36), 176- Tyler Randell (0 NHL gp), 206- Ben Sexton (0 NHL gp)

The verdict: Again, not much to show for the draft picks, though Caron, Button (part of the Seguin trade) and MacDermid (part of Jaromir Jagr trade) all fetched return assets for the Bruins, so it’s not a total wash. Still- teams don’t draft players with the idea of making them trade chips. Randell and Sexton are still in the Boston system, but neither flash anything more than potential as NHL journeymen/role players, so another missed year in 2009 looks like fait accompli.

Conclusion: It’s easy to go back and play Monday Morning GM 8, 7 and 6 years later, and the Bruins are far from the only ones who have hosed up drafts in multiple years (hey- Vancouver, Phoenix, Calgary and so on- here’s looking at you!), but this is what we tend to do. After the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, the team began a natural progression downwards without fresh, young, skilled talent to replace aging veterans. To the B’s credit they got back to the finals in 2013 but could not beat a superior Chicago Blackhawks squad that had effectively re-tooled after winning it all in 2010 and captured another Cup this past June. The Blackhawks have done a great job of hitting on drafts, which was essential to their keeping enough talent in the system to off-set salary cap-driven personnel moves. They’ll be an interesting team to watch with their new look.

As for Boston- those missed years from 2007-09 forced the Bruins to play catch up and while the 2010-14 drafts have been more productive with talent yet to sink or swim, the team’s future may ultimately lie with how well the club did in 2015- with 10 picks, 6 of them in the top-52.

Here is Michael Monroe and Hanoi Rocks to bring it on home…