Another B’s audio cast: Frederick, Studnicka, Zboril, Cehlarik plus Joe Murphy & NJ Devils new/old threads

Hey all- back with another audio cast file (Eric Carmen voice) all by myself

In this 60+ minute audio cast, I continue my Boston Bruins prospect series, going with a couple of centers in Trent Frederic and Jack Studnicka, both of whom I have a strong feeling will play for the B’s at some point (unless one or the other is involved in a higher-profile trade, which is possible- you never know). Also covered is 2015 13th overall pick Jakub Zboril, who had a solid 1st pro season- we try to be fair to him here. Last on deck for this one is Slovak forward Peter Cehlarik, who faces an important season after being a late third-round selection in 2013, a draft that hasn’t produced a great deal for Boston.

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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.

Sharks and Penguins for Lord Stanley plus other notes

Well, it isn’t exactly how we drew it up after the San Jose Sharks failed to make the playoffs a year ago, but here they are- for the first time in the careers of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau– the players taken 1st and 2nd overall in 1997- the West Coast apex predators have a chance at winning the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.

For some Bruins fans, it’s shades of Ray Bourque in 2001 all over again. Former Bruins star and captain leaves town and has a chance at winning their only championship, with the Boston NHL club mired in mediocrity. Of course- there’s no real comparison between the sentiment fans had for Bourque and what folks are expressing for Thornton- but it’s kinda similar.

Thornton was a good guy, a heck of a player, but a lousy captain. He wasn’t ready for the responsibility when he was given the ‘C’ in 2002 at age 23. I think he liked the idea of being the team captain, but when it came time to handle the essence of leadership and the sacrifices that come with being a team’s identified leader and the one who has to face the music in good times and bad, Thornton wasn’t mature enough to handle it.

In hindsight, being traded out of Boston was the best thing for him. Playing in California suits Thornton perfectly and it’s interesting to note that he eventually lost the captaincy in San Jose as well. California cool only gets you so far, apparently. GM Doug Wilson obviously made the right choice, as Joe Pavelski has been everything you want from a captain and more. He’s scored the big goals and if the Sharks are going to overcome their 0-1 series deficit, Pavelski will be the guy who leads the charge. He’s a winner. And Thornton is on the verge of earning that moniker for the first real time in his career- it won’t be easy but now is the time for Jumbo Joe to demonstrate the best kind of leadership- setting the example and stepping up.

Being a great captain is different from how someone is measured as a player. That he’s not a top leader is not an indictment of Thornton, because his NHL body of work is Hall of Fame-worthy. However, when it came to anointing him with the mantle of leadership in Boston, it was too much, too soon. And his tenure in San Jose proved that some guys are simply better followers than leaders.

On the flip side, the Pittsburgh Penguins are vying for a fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history, and what would be a second for Sidney Crosby (2009), tying him with franchise icons Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr (1991 and 1992).

After underachieving for much of the year, the Pens pulled an impressive Lazarus act, surging at the most important time possible, and riding the wave of outstanding play from Crosby, Kris Letang, Phil Kessel...(wait, did you say PHIL Kessel?) and rookie goalie Matt Murray.

Big things were expected of the Penguins this year going into the season, so if you had pulled a Rip Van Winkle on the eve of opening night and woke up today, you wouldn’t be all that surprised that Pittsburgh is in the SCF for the first time since they won it all seven years ago. It’s how the Penguins got here that has been so interesting, and it took them a while and a coaching change (hello, Mike Sullivan) to get going, but with a relative unknown in net who’s posting quite a Cinderella story in Murray, they’ve knocked off some good teams to get here.

Flip a coin. A lot of Boston fans are cheering for Thornton, and that’s all fine. Remember- if his team wins it, he will have earned it. He doesn’t deserve to win…no one does.

And as for the pick…draftniks sigh…it’s 29 or 30. What does it matter at this point- where once people thought it might be a lottery selection, Martin Jones dashed those dreams but even choosing at 18 might have netted the team a nice power forward in Max Jones (no relation) or perhaps a later flyer on Julien Gauthier or developmental D in Logan Stanley. No matter…the Sharks have busted those dreams and so you have to figure the pick acquired from San Jose for Jones will be in play come draft weekend. I would be surprised if the Bruins hold onto it if they can flip it for an extra 2nd and perhaps a 3rd (Don Sweeney would likely have to package a pick or prospect) or 4th rounder (typical value for moving out of the end of the 1st). Or, the team might use it as a part of a trade deal to bring back the much-needed NHL help on D. Either way, the Sharks have continued to rub a little salt in the wounds of a lost Boston season.

The 2015-16 hockey season and rollercoaster is just days from being over, but the endless offseason is only getting started.

***

Here’s a guy to keep an eye on, btw: Tri-City Storm forward and USHL Clark Cup champion and playoff MVP Wade Allison. He’s a big, heavy-on-the-puck right wing with size and skill.

He’s shot up the various draft boards and rankings after an outstanding second half of the season, and the Western Michigan University recruit’s stock is surging at the right time.

I’d say his first couple of steps are a little clunky, but he’s a powerful skater in the straight line who does effective work in the high danger areas and along the walls. His tremendous playoff scoring run keyed the Storm all the way to a sweep of Dubuque in the Clark Cup final.

Don’t sleep on this kid (and forget about getting him in the 3rd round if you’re thinking he’s going to fall), who seems to have it all including an impressive personality to boot.

Notes from around the NHL on opening night

The NHL’s 2015-16 campaign officially opened on Wednesday night with the 2015 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks hosting the New York Rangers and raising their third big banner since 2010 after going 49 years between their previous title in 1961. The Chicago Cubs are hoping to capture some of that magic, and in case you forgot- the last time they won a World Series was 1908.

The Rangers-Hawks game was what hockey is about- it was a fast-paced game that saw the visitors take a 3-2 victory after a late Patrick Kane goal was waved off (due to the referee losing sight of the puck while behind net and blowing the whistle before Kane could poke it through Henrik Lundqvist’s pads). Hank was very good- surrendering a pair of goals to Chicago Euro young guns Artem Panarin and Teuvo Teravainen after his defense broke down on both occasions. Beyond that, he was his usual stellar self and at age 33, shows no signs of slowing.

Jonathan Toews is such a fine player. Granted- I finally landed him in an ESPN fantasy hockey league I participate in after that league did away with keepers for the first time in 4 years, but Toews is such a cerebral guy out there- less is more with him. On one play, he was hooked by Mats Zuccarello, but calmly pivoted and threaded a pass over to Teravainen, who got a good shot off and forced Lundqvist to make a key save. That play won’t show up in Toews’ stats, nor will it make the highlight reel, but stack enough of those up together over the course of the season and you’re going to win a lot more games than you lose.

I really like Kevin Hayes as an NHL player. His raw potential was so evident way back in 2009-10 when he was a star at Nobles prep, but we knew back then that he was going to require a lot of patience and seasoning. The B’s reportedly came close to getting him in the summer of 2014, but he opted for Broadway instead and watch for him to emerge as one of that team’s more consistent forwards in the next season or two. He and older brother Jimmy are different- Kevin is more of a finesse, skilled scorer who can beat you in a variety of ways, whereas Jimmy is more of a straight-ahead, north-south winger who generates his offense through hard work and parking his gigantic frame in front of the net where very few in the NHL have the size/strength to move him.

Hayes, who was drafted by the Blackhawks, used the system to his advantage to choose his destination and as mentioned last night, we could see a similar scenario play out with Harvard’s own Jimmy Vesey, who was snubbed in the 2011 draft, but picked up by Nashville in the third round a year later and will have the same option for free agency available to him after his senior season in Cambridge if he does not sign with the Predators. Just a guess, but I bet the folks in Smashville will work very hard to get the lethal scorer into the fold…I’ve spoken to Nashville scouting director Jeff Kealty (a Massachusetts guy  and former 1st round pick in 1994 out of CM back in the day) and it’s no secret that the team loves him (as did the Bruins except for the fact that they didn’t have a second-rounder in 2012 to use on Vesey).

Out West, the Kings took an early lead at home, jumping on the San Jose Sharks and former L.A. (and Boston for a few days) goalie Martin Jones when Nick Shore deflected a shot just 1:42 into the game. However, San Jose stormed back, including a wicked shot from Joe Thornton on a 2-on-1 when the entire building including Jonathan Quick figured he would pass it. That shot reminded me a lot of the 38-goal Jumbo Joe we saw in Boston during Mike Keenan’s one and only season behind the Bruins bench in 2000-01.

After that the rout was on and the Sharks closed out the Kings by a 4-1 score. Milan Lucic went after Logan Couture in the final frame after he took exception to a hit. This is the Lucic on-the-edge guy whose emotions don’t always work for the team…I didn’t have a problem with Lucic going after Couture as I do with the fact that in the grand scheme it was not that big of a deal and was just as easily something he could have taken a number on and then crushed Couture with a big but legal hit the next time they went into a corner together. All Couture did was turtle (and that’s not an insult to him- he’d be foolish to try and fight in that situation) Lucic once again looked like a bully and a bad guy, which many believe he is.

In any case- for those thinking that the Sharks are going to tank this season, this one game is reason for pause. They played well on the road against a fired-up Kings team that along with the Bruins and Blackhawks, has won every Stanley Cup for the last six years.

The Calgary Flames dropped their season opener to Vancouver. I didn’t watch the game live but will catch the replay today and see how Mr. Dougie Hamilton looked. I am intrigued to see if Sean Monahan can make that next big step in his development after a fine season a year ago.

All in all- it’s been a long offseason and it’s great to have games that count once again.

The Bruins open up their season tonight at home against the game and dangerous Winnipeg Jets, who are my pick to reach a Stanley Cup final series here in the not-too-distant future with the pieces they continue to stockpile. The Jets are a young team, but they’ve got a nice balance of skill, grit and character. These are not your daddy’s Atlanta Thrashers, that’s for sure!

The wait is over, Bruins fans- the 92nd season  begins tonight.