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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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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The undrafted free agents: Tim Schaller

When the Boston Bruins announced the signing of Tim Schaller on July 1 as the dust was settling on the big grab of David Backes, the Providence College product by way of Merrimack, N.H. and the New England Jr. Huskies of the old EJHL was not exactly an afterthought. He scored his first NHL goal against his childhood favorite B’s, and while he doesn’t have a great deal of big league playing time, is one of the more intriguing under-the-radar free agency grabs by the team.

Although on the New England-area watch lists back in his 2009 primary NHL draft season (he was born in late ’90), Schaller was not selected and ended up signing with the Buffalo Sabres prior to the 2013-14 season after playing a full four years in the NCAA with PC.

At 6-foot-2 and nearly 220 pounds, Schaller has the ideal size to center a bottom NHL line, but probably has enough versatility to shift to the wing if he can’t beat out Noel Acciari (he spent two years with NA in college before going pro) at the pivot spot in Boston. Schaller is a capable skater in a straight line, and he plays a traditional north-south, take-the-puck-right-to-the-net style. He’s never been one who was seen as a top prospect option, but he’s an above average AHL forward who has shown flashes of serviceable effectiveness with the Sabres, even on two below average NHL rosters (35 games over the past two seasons).

The Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa had a nice little deep dive on Schaller last weekend and as usual, he mined some interesting nuggets:

“We had probably about 10-12 teams calling on one day,” Schaller recalled of the opening of free agency. “About halfway through the phone calls, Don Sweeney of the Boston Bruins called. At that moment, I almost told my agent, ‘Why take another phone call? Why not just say yes to the Bruins right away?’ It’s a good opportunity to have to play in Boston. All the numbers worked out perfectly to where it was impossible to say no to them.”

That Schaller is a local guy will not win him any bonus points in his fight to make the roster. The 6-foot-2-inch, 219-pound center will have to beat out several players to earn his $600,000 NHL payday, including former college teammate Noel Acciari. Schaller agreed to a one-year, two-way contract, indicating an assignment to Providence is not out of the question.

Acciari, one of Schaller’s primary rivals, promptly turned into a coaching staff favorite upon his promotion last season. Acciari had just one assist in 19 games, but he did not take long to win the bosses’ trust on defensive-zone faceoffs, shorthanded shifts, and five-on-five situations where his willingness to run over opponents earned him a spot in the regular rotation.

Growing up in the Granite State less than an hour from Boston, Schaller was a Bruins fan, so he said in the Globe piece that when GM Don Sweeney called, he was pretty much sold. This is an example of leveraging the connection local talent has with playing for the hometown team, which although has fallen on harder times over the past two seasons, is still just five years removed from having won a Stanley Cup.

Cynics will probably insert a snide remark about “getting the Duckboats” ready when it comes to Schaller, so I’ll beat them to the punch by acknowledging that at $600k and on a one-year, two-way contract, it’s obvious the Bruins aren’t expecting a major contribution. The larger point is that he’s a smart signing as a player who can hedge against Acciari taking a step backwards or perhaps dealing with unexpected setbacks like injury.  We won’t make Schaller into more than he is currently- a bottom-six forward and center who could earn a fourth-line job right away with his old PC mate or provide the Bruins and Providence of the AHL with an effective heavy-on-the-puck veteran who will rack up close to a point-per-game’s worth of offense on the farm.

You can also connect the dots to Jimmy Vesey a bit with this one, as it is one more example of the lure that Boston has for guys who grew up in the area and have an attachment to home. Schiller’s decision and his accompanying comments reminds us all that the Bruins are still in a pretty good spot when it comes to attracting players and selling them on making Boston a pro hockey destination. There’s a significant difference between Schaller and Vesey in terms of how they project in the NHL, but there is still a good bit to be said about how a guy feels about staying home to play for the team he used to skate around on local rinks dreaming about. That’s not to say it’s the only reason Vesey might pass on another more lucrative (in terms of organization and winning) destination, but it would be foolish to dismiss the kind of influence that might have in the decision process. Guys don’t know what they don’t know, and in Vesey’s case for most of his 23 years, all he’s known is Boston. He’s said it himself- he’s a homebody, and like Schaller, his interest in fielding a lot of other offers might be diminished because he knows the B’s want him.

As we inch closer to August 15, we can’t predict if Vesey will ultimately decide that Boston represents the “best fit” for him, or if some other team like the Buffalo Sabres, Chicago Blackhawks, NY Rangers or perhaps New Jersey Devils do.  There’s a lot that can happen between now and when his rights (currently held by Buffalo) expire.

It says a lot that ‘Hawks VP/GM Stan Bowman has been in Foxboro twice in person to watch Vesey play in the summer league there, though.  That’s Chicago’s M.O.- trade away high draft picks, but replenish those by aggressively signing high-end free agents who bring similar upside to those 18-year-olds drafted early on in June. We saw it work to ideal effect last year with the Breadman- Artemi Panarin, winner of the NHL’s top rookie prize (he also cashed in on some sweet bonuses, which contributed to the need to move some veteran players out). This is why Chicago is an upper tier NHL team, so nobody should be surprised that Bowman and crew are in on Vesey. Whether they’ll go all-in and Vesey himself will opt to go there remains to be seen, but this is how great teams stay that way- by being bold and managing risk-reward transactions. Vesey is low-risk, high-reward if he meets expectations, but we shall see.

Back to Schaller- he’s no threat to the memory of Milan Lucic, but there’s goodness in the idea of adding a big-bodied forward who plays a physical but pretty clean game. He doesn’t take a lot of penalties and uses his big frame to good effect along the walls and down low. He’s not going to score much off the rush, but he’ll do the grunt work in front of the net and in the high danger areas. There’s not a lot of skill here, but that’s not why Boston signed him. If he doesn’t make the big club, he can go down to Providence and help to offset some of the forward losses and annual turnover so prevalent in the AHL and lower levels. Of note- he was named the Amerks’ MVP in a vote taken by his teammate despite playing just 38 games last season due to injuries and time in Buffalo. With NHL experience, he’ll be someone who is on the recall short list when inevitable injuries happen up front or players struggle to contribute. When you consider how much of a disappointment Brett Connolly was in Boston after being the sixth overall pick in 2010, Schaller is a solid investment to make for what could end up being a similar payoff. It’s also one more reminder that if you draft a player high and he ends up on your fourth line as Connolly did at the end of last season, then you’ve taken a wrong turn. The undrafted Schaller makes a great deal more sense for where Boston intends to use him.

Some feel that Schaller will make the NHL team right from Jump Street- and that’s all fine. With his low cap hit and versatility, he might not carry a draft pedigree, but has proven himself to be the kind of serviceable grinder who will use his big body and has killed penalties, even though he hasn’t had an abundance of ice time. He’s confident he can win a spot and he wants to be here- that’s most of the battle right there, so may the best player win. Here’s his end-of-year interview with Rochester (AHL):

This is the kind of low-risk, medium-reward signing that helps teams get out of the cellar. The B’s still have a gaping hole on defense that needs to be filled, but by building depth at other positions, it allows the GM to build the kind of war chest that might help him to land that elusive young NHL talent that not only represents an upgrade but will have some retainability as well.

Vesey could be the key piece keeping Sweeney from committing to a major deal, but come August 15 and the time it takes the Hobey Baker winner to reach a decision, bigger things could be afoot.

 

A look at the 10th Boston Bruins development camp Pt 1: the G and D

Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney didn’t invent the idea of bringing young prospects in during July to acclimate them to the team’s systems, culture and begin the bonding process with their peers inside the organization, but he is the father of the development camp tradition in Boston, which began in the summer of 2007.

As the team’s top player development guru at the time, Sweeney’s vision has matured in the near-decade since the B’s brought in top picks Zach Hamill (ouch) and Tommy Cross, to mix in with the other prospects, five of whom went on to have fine NHL success and were a part of the 2011 Stanley Cup championship squad- David KrejciMilan Lucic and Brad Marchand, Adam McQuaid and Tuukka Rask. Here’s an old archive of that very first prospects camp, written by John Bishop– the recap provides a fascinating glimpse into the future at a time when so much was exciting and  new, including head coach Claude Julien.

10 years later, Cross is still with the organization and Marchand is coming off of his best NHL season to date, lighting the lamp 36 times for the Bruins and lining himself up for a lucrative extension that should see him earn about $6 million on an average annual value if the team can get something done with him before he becomes an unrestricted free agent next July 1. Krejci moved into the B’s all-time top-20 scorers this past season, and enters the new campaign in striking distance of 500 career points (he sits at 472). Krejci turned 30 in late April and there are concerns that his slight frame could be breaking down after the wear and tear he’s been subjected to since breaking into the NHL on a full-time basis midway through the 2007-08 season. A fourth member of that inaugural development camp- McQuaid- is another member of the championship team and has managed to carve out a solid NHL career with the Bruins after the team acquired him from Columbus (he was a second-round choice in 2005) before the 2007 draft for a fifth-round pick. Rask, who interestingly enough was outplayed by Kevin Regan in the final inaugural camp scrimmage, went on to earn the 2014 Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top netminder and backstopped the B’s to the 2013 Stanley Cup final series after backing up Tim Thomas in 2011. That Rask gave up 7 goals on just 29 shots while Regan stood tall at the other end should serve as a reminder to everyone not to get too fixated on what happens during camp scrimmages.

Boston is middle of the pack when it comes to developing prospects, and in looking back on it, that very first development camp was the high-water mark for the B’s organization with five successful (impactful to Boston) graduates taking part. That number goes up if you include those camp participants who went on to see NHL success elsewhere (Vladimir Sobotka) or big league action at some point in their careers, some more than others (Matt Hunwick, Byron Bitz, Matt Lashoff, Martins Karsums, Andrew Bodnarchuk, Mikko Lehtonen, Hamill, Cross). When you consider that Lashoff and Karsums (and Bitz) were dealt for future Hall of Famer Mark Recchi and the pick that brought Dennis Seidenberg and Matt Bartkowski to the Bruins, it was a pretty impressive time for the B’s organization and foreshadowed that the team was on its way up, just four years from climbing to the summit of the NHL after being mired in the cellar.

Since 2007, development camp production has been a little more spotty- Joe Colborne, Mike Hutchinson, Jordan Caron, Tyler Randell, Tyler Seguin, Ryan Spooner, Craig Cunningham, Zach Trotman, Dougie Hamilton, Alexander Khokhlachev, Kevan Miller, Torey Krug, Seth Griffith, Joe Morrow, David Pastrnak, Noel Acciari and Frank Vatrano are all past Bruins prospects and camp attendees (2008-15) who saw NHL action in the 2015-16 season. There are more if you include players like Josh Jooris (Calgary) and Matt Read (Philadelphia) to name two, both of whom attended past Bruins camps as undrafted NCAA invites.

It is not lost on myriad fans that two of the most skilled and impactful players from that list- Seguin and Hamilton- are now skating and producing for the Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames. Krug, Pastrnak and Spooner are the biggest success stories as home grown players who all saw time in at least one summer development camp. Vatrano and Acciari might not be too far behind in terms of growing into regular contributors to Boston’s fortunes.

Since 2014, when the B’s drafted Pastrnak late in the first round and then saw him earn an NHL role at the tender age of 18, the draft process has looked up for the team and there is reason to look at some of the futures with more optimism than in the past.

Much has happened in the decade since Peter Chiarelli and Sweeney brought their first iteration of prospects to Wilmington, Mass. and not all of it good. However, that’s life- a series of ups and downs. The B’s lost their way during a critical period of unproductive drafts (2007-09) and then moved out some of their top young talent for nowhere near enough in return. The jury is still out on Dougie Hamilton, who turned into three promising picks in Zach Senyshyn, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Jeremy Lauzon (the first two of the trio will not be in attendance due to health and schedule conflicts).

While development camps are helpful to assisting the youngsters in preparing for the challenges that lie ahead as they transition from the amateur to pro ranks, they are not predictors of future NHL success. That remains largely up to the players themselves to beat out those ahead of them on the depth chart, or become footnotes in camp history the way T.J. Trevelyan, Levi Nelson, Chris Collins, Dennis Reul and Brock Bradford (among others) did from 2007.

2016 Boston Bruins development camp attendees at a glance (2015-16 club in parentheses)

The goaltenders:

Stephen Dhillon (Niagara- OHL): The lone invite this year as a player not drafted by Boston or under contract (he attended Detroit’s prospects camp this week, btw), the dual citizen from the Buffalo area is big, toolsy and was at one point projected as a top-90 pick in the 2016 NHL draft. He didn’t get much playing time and is still pretty raw, but might earn an NHL contract offer this summer if he can impress in his various tryouts. If not signed by the start of the new season, he’ll go back into the 2017 NHL draft.

Zane McIntyre (Providence- AHL): This is the former University of North Dakota star’s seventh Bruins development camp since he was drafted in 2010. After winning the 2015 Mike Richter award as the NCAA’s top netminder and finishing third in Hobey Baker voting as the top college player (behind Jack Eichel and Jimmy Vesey), McIntyre had a challenging transition to pro hockey. He was thrown into the fire early when Subban suffered a training camp injury and at times, McIntyre flashed the promise of a future NHL starter. He’s coachable and driven, so he’s going back to work on fundamentals and watch for him to bounce back in his second AHL campaign. Here’s a report on his Richter Award:

Malcolm Subban (Providence-AHL): Subban did not attend a year ago, but after suffering a fractured larynx during warmups in late January, he missed the rest of the season. This is an opportunity to help him get back into playing shape so that he’s not going into September training camp to face NHL shooters about 9 months after his injury. It’s more about helping him with his confidence and timing than anything else, and will give the Boston coaches additional time to help refine his technique.

Here’s his 2012 draft video from the YouTube :

 

Daniel Vladar (Chicago- USHL): The massive (6-5) Czech butterfly goalie and third-rounder in 2015 had a strong first North American season playing Jr. A hockey while splitting the Steel’s goaltending duties nearly down the middle. He’s so big and athletic that “Darth” Vladar is tough to beat on the first shot, but he’s got work to do with his technique (sensing a trend here?). At times, he appears slow to read the play and seems to be guessing about where the shot is coming from, so this is something B’s goalie coach Bob Essensa will likely work on with him. When on his game, Vladar is like a giant octopus who swallows pucks and impresses with his size and agility. He signed a three-year ELC last spring, so it remains to be seen whether he will play pro hockey in the AHL or ECHL (or Europe) or try to work a loophole that might allow him to skirt the CHL’s ban on import goalies to play in the QMJHL. We’ll see.More draft on Vladar from USHL:

Vladar highlights from 2015 Bruins development camp courtesy of “Power Play with CJ”:

The defensemen:

Brandon Carlo (Tri-City- WHL/Providence- AHL): Colorado native is already a fan favorite after being drafted 37th overall in 2015 as a big (6-5), fluid-skating shutdown defenseman. As a late-born 1996 who has already signed with Boston, Carlo is eligible to play the full year in Providence of the AHL if he doesn’t make the NHL Bruins out of camp. He’s a solid bet to play for Boston at some point this season, just because of his impressive pro hockey attributes and a mature outlook. He’s very difficult to beat 1-on-1 because of his mobility and reach, and while rugged in his style, isn’t an overly nasty or intimidating player. He’s still a little on the light side given how tall he is, but John Whitesides will get him NHL-ready real soon. Whether Carlo can evolve into a legitimate two-way threat at the NHL level or he becomes a solid, minute-eating defensive mainstay is the question we most want to see answered…all in due time. Here’s a nice draft profile on him from the Tri-City Americans:

And an isolation video of Carlo from the 2015 WJC (HockeyPwns):

Cameron Clarke (Lone Star- NAHL): The NAHL’s top defenseman and Ferris State recruit racked up 50 points this season for the Brahmas. He’s got an athletic 6-foot-2 frame with room to pack on some muscle to be able to handle the more rugged play at the higher levels. Although raw, Clarke is a heady, creative defender who skates with fluidity and can make all of the requisite passes in a rapid transition attack. He’s especially effective on the power play, where he uses his deft puck skills and lateral agility to create space and set up the play. He doesn’t have an overpowering shot yet, but is smart about when to use it and will strike when the shooting lanes are there. Clarke is more dangerous as a set-up man, where he quarterbacks the play with the man advantage and also uses his mobility and reach to deny opponents from gaining the edge and attacking with speed.

Matt Grzelcyk (Boston University- NCAA): TSP just published a comprehensive Q & A on the former Terriers captain and native Townie, but to quickly recap- he’s coming off of two significant lower body injuries that hindered him in his senior season. Even with the wonky knees, he still managed to match a career-best in goals with 10 and when healthy, plays an effective transition game with an improving defensive mindset. Don’t count him out in his quest to earn NHL playing time this season, though he’s realistic in what lies ahead and is prepared to do an apprenticeship in the minors first. Here’s a BU-produced video from his freshman season:

Grzelcyk given too much time/space at the 2015 Beanpot in OT:

His draft video from USA Hockey (and you just might recognize the voice on that 1st question):

Emil Johansson (HV71- Sweden): The 2014 seventh-rounder is a mobile, two-way defender who raised eyebrows late in the season and Swedish pro league playoffs when his offense came alive (3 goals, 5 points in 6 playoff contests). He’s got pretty average size with a 6-0, 190-pound frame, but skates well and is showing off some intriguing puck skills and potential. The hockey IQ/vision/creativity is a question mark at this stage, but since being drafted, the all-around game is progressing. He will skate for Djurgårdens IF next season and if he can keep his developmental curve headed up, Johansson might prove to be a late-round get worth signing and putting into the system. If you can speak Swedish, here’s a HV71 video interview from early in 2014-15 (nice footwork in the limited look):

Jeremy Lauzon (Rouyn-Noranda- QMJHL): For TSP’s money, the 52nd overall pick in 2015 with the third of three draft choices Calgary gave up for Hamilton, was one of that draft’s more impressive values. Even with a spate of injuries throughout the season, which included a scary skate blade cut to the neck during the ‘Q’ playoffs, Lauzon put up career numbers as the Huskies’ go-to defender and bell cow in all situations. He’s big enough at 6-2, skilled enough- he was one of the final cuts on Team Canada’s WJC squad after not even being a summer camp and December invite- and he plays a solid 200-foot game as a smart positional player with some bite. Bruins fans will grow to love him, even if he may or may not project as a high-end true No. 1 defender. If he hits on that potential however, it would go a long way towards silencing the unhappiness surrounding the trade with Calgary. He’s probably at least three years away, but if his progress is any indication, Lauzon will be worth the wait.  Have posted this before, but John Moore’s early 2014-15 profile is quite good:

Ryan Lindgren (U.S. NTDP Under-18- USHL): The Team USA captain and two-way rearguard was a great get at 49th overall in Buffalo. He’s similar to Lauzon in that he has no discernible flaws in his game and has a promising offensive upside that may not have been that appreciated by NHL scouts in his draft season. Though not all that tall at a little under 6-1, Lindgren is thick through the torso and has strong lower leg drive, which allows him to generate impressive skating speed and separate opponents from the puck. He’s so smart and instinctive- he pinches at the right times and understands his limitations. Lindgren will help you a lot, but he rarely hurts you.  The University of Minnesota-bound 18-year-old has high-end character and will do a little bit of everything, including playing with an edge that has caught some opponents unawares. Had he been 6-2 or 6-3, Lindgren would have been a first-round pick, but don’t sell him short as a player who could be more than the sum of his parts as a versatile defender who minus the size and reach, has the key attributes NHL clubs covet.  Here are some Lindgren U18 highlights (bigwhite06):

Draft video courtesy of the USHL:

Charlie McAvoy (Boston University- NCAA): Boston’s top pick at 14 is generating a lot of buzz headed into camp and rightfully so. You can read more about him here, but the common thread for the youngest skater in college hockey last season is that he has both the skill and personality to be a fan favorite in the NHL if he hits on his potential. An excellent skater who likes to take the puck and run with it, McAvoy’s defensive game and awareness steadily improved over the course of the season. He still needs to work on his decision-making and not getting too aggressive, but with the B’s making a conscious effort to add speed and skill to their transition game, McAvoy immediately rises to the top of the organization’s prospect depth chart for the position, and is up there with 45-goal scorer Zach Senyshyn in terms of projected NHL impact one day. McAvoy will be the focus of development camp, and rightfully so- he’s earned that, and some NHL scouts have said that he is on the verge of a major breakout at BU in 2016-17. A pro contract with Boston might not be that far behind. Watch his selection on YouTube:

Wiley Sherman (Harvard University- NCAA): At about 6-7, Sherman is the tallest Bruins prospect, and he brings surprising agility and footwork for one so enormous. He’s still filling out that imposing frame and could tip the scales north of 240 pounds when all is said and done. The 2013 fifth-rounder is coming off of a solid sophomore season at Harvard, where he benefited from an expanded role with the Crimson under Ted Donato and showed off some intriguing flashes of two-way play. With his long reach and skating, he’s difficult to beat off the rush, but Sherman needs to make faster decisions in the face of a tenacious forecheck. The former Hotchkiss Bearcat was always going to be a long-term project, but you can see a payoff down the road as a lower-pairing defense-minded player who could form a nice tandem with a more skilled offensive partner. With the size you simply can’t teach, there’s enough raw material with the Connecticut native to wait for.

Jakub Zboril (Saint John- QMJHL): Boston’s top choice in 2015 has a nice opportunity to demonstrate that some of the concerns about him after taking a step backwards offensively are unwarranted. On the plus side- the 19-year-old Czech is big, skates well and plays with a physical edge that is not typical of many European teens that come over to North America. He showed more two-way promise in his draft season, but did settle into a more defensive role this year before coming out of the shell to impress with some key playoff production. The big knock TSP has on Zboril is not unique to 2015-16, however- too often, the effort and compete aren’t where they need to be. This is not a matter of trying to downplay his potential, and before pointing out his youth, the road to the NHL is paved with similar impressive talents who for whatever reason, simply did not have the requisite personal discipline and dedication to live up to where their talent got them drafted. With his skating, passing, shot and physicality, Zboril still has top-two NHL defense potential. He’s at a key personal crossroads this season: he’ll have to start showing everyone that he’s capable of more consistent execution and effort in all three zones and is willing to put in the work to round out the parts of his game that aren’t NHL-quality yet. If he can do that, there’s reason to believe that Zboril will succeed, but he was the 13th overall selection for a reason- he needs to start putting it together. As a 1997-born prospect, he cannot play in the AHL for Providence this season if he doesn’t make the NHL roster out of camp. Another John Moore profile from Zboril’s draft season:

Highlights package from the HockeyVidz:


Rob O’Gara is not in attendance- he has “graduated” and will focus on making the Boston Bruins roster in the fall after finishing a four-year NCAA career at Yale. TSP has a more in-depth profile on the Long Island native coming this week, so if you’re disappointed that he won’t be there, we’ve got you covered.

But before that- coming soon- TSP will break down all of the forwards at Bruins development camp.

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Amigos Podcast: the Free Agency edition

The 3 Amigos ride again!

Dom, Reed and I are back with our 3rd podcast together, recapping the 1st week of NHL free agency with a decided Boston bent, covering David Backes, Anton Khudobin, Riley Nash, Tim Schaller and Alex Grant to name a few. Dom will tell you why he thinks Khudobin for two years, beyond the solid addition of a proven backup, has key implications for Malcolm Subban not getting snapped up in the expansion draft.

We also issue a Danger, Will Robinson! alert to fans of the Edmonton Oilers as we look at the impacts of recent signing and additions to that club’s cap picture and we see some eerie parallels to how it all came unraveled in Boston.

We also discuss (about 55 minutes in) the Bruins and Don Sweeney’s still pending move to upgrade the NHL talent on defense- that kind of a move to shore up the club’s right-shooting depth chart has been curiously lacking. Dom mentions an interesting name with Ontario connections and Reed has had plenty of looks and shares his thoughts on why this particular player (an RFA) might be a stealth target of the Bruins via trade.

All in all, it’s a little over 90 minutes of hockey talk, unvarnished and calling it like we see it. Ole!

David Backes Boston-bound with 5x 30

 

Boston’s first major free agent signing since 2013 when the B’s inked Jarome Iginla to a one-year, incentive-laden deal fell quickly in the opening moments of the annual July 1 NHL free agent frenzy when word broke that St. Louis Blues captain David Backes had signed a 5-year pact with the Black and Gold worth an AAV of $6M.

Here is a dated, but  informative video from the NHL:

What’s interesting is that Backes had been somewhat of a hot topic of late with B’s 1st-round choice and St. Louis native Trent Frederic mentioning him at the draft as his hockey idol and player he most tries to emulate. Now, Frederic will likely share the Boston dressing room with him at some point.

As for Backes- where to start? How about with this OT goal vs. Chicago to kick off the opening round?

We’ll hit the good:

The Blues captain has been one of the most effective two-way centers in the NHL since he broke out with 31 goals and 54 points (165 PIMs) in 2008-09.  He’s never topped more than 62 points in a year, but he’s so valuable as a space-eating, versatile forward who can move between center and the right wing. He plays that physical, grinding game the B’s want to get back to, but he’s skilled enough to be a consistent scoring presence.

Loui Eriksson was also a versatile winger for Boston, but he lacked the size and physicality that the 6-3, 220-pound Backes brings. He’s a year younger than Backes, but where the Bruins were only willing to go four years for him, they went an extra 365 days for their newest player.

There are things Backes can do that Eriksson simply couldn’t. What is interesting to me here is that if the Bruins and Blues had been able to get past the stumbling blocks of a reported bad contract needing to go back Boston’s way in order to consummate that trade, Backes would likely have remained put in St. Louis and the B’s would be working on signing Shattenkirk to an extension instead. It’s interesting food for thought, but the Blues, who allegedly really wanted to extend and keep Backes and Troy Brouwer (who signed with Calgary today) and were more than willing to sacrifice Shattenkirk to get that done, now are essentially stuck with their third choice. Blues GM will have some personal relationship management to do, and in the end- Shattenkirk could very well be a big trade deadline move for the team next winter if he’s not willing to sign on in the long term.

As a captain and character guy- Backes is a proven leader who will instantly bring a needed leadership presence that the B’s have missed. Since Mark Recchi was in the room, the team has lacked for a vocal leader who commands respect beyond the quiet professionals that currently comprise the club’s core of leaders.

Now for the bad:

To get Backes, the B’s had to commit five years and $30 million. That’s a deal that immediately represents risk for the team and the front office that signed him.

Since I raised the point repeatedly with respect to Milan Lucic and his (still awaiting the details) contract with the Edmonton Oilers in terms of not much tread on the tire/much mileage on the engine- it’s the same, if not an even bigger case for Backes, because he’s four years older than Lucic is and has similar wear and tear concerns given the style of game he plays. It takes a heavy toll on the body and if Backes can’t hold up physically in years 3-5, the B’s will be in it deep.

When you look at the potential for the Bruins to get a less-than-average return in the long term on the big contract, the possibility is real that Boston could be hamstrung when it comes to retaining some of the higher-end youngsters who will come due for deals when Backes is still on the books. If he isn’t producing for the club, then they’ll be back to where they were when the previous GM had to move the ever popular Johnny Boychuk for futures at a time when expectations for the club were high. In hindsight, Brandon Carlo and Ryan Lindgren are promising prospects who will in all likelihood play for the Bruins, but there is no question that not having Boychuk for the last two seasons has been an enormous factor in the defense’s plunge to the bottom of the league.

Don Sweeney and Cam Neely are courting disaster with a signing of this magnitude- they aren’t gambling here…because Backes is a proven commodity who despite his age still brings a lot to the table. However, when we’ve watched the way injuries and age have helped speed Zdeno Chara’s decline, it is a fair point to raise here. Backes is leaving his prime, but the Bruins just paid him like a guy who is in it…kinda like Lucic is.

Now, here’s some encouraging news- Backes scored 7 goals and 14 points in 20 playoff games. His level of play went up, as he posted career bests in the postseason and led his team by example to the Western Conference final, where they ran out of gas against the upstart San Jose Sharks club. His previous postseason high for games played was just 9 contests, so it isn’t like Backes has had much experience going deep into the playoffs, but he performed like a star and captain at age 32- that had to be a key in terms of what impressed the Bruins enough to take the plunge.

Unfortunately, the modern NHL continues down a path whereby exorbitant prices are paid in the offseason to players who typically won’t justify those contracts from start to finish. That makes the lower-cost ELC and bridge contracts for younger players more critical than ever, so when people express concern for what could happen down the road to rising stars like David Pastrnak, for example, that shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand, which is what I did. A mistake for which I apologized. I have to think that management is already looking ahead to Pastrnak and figuring out how to keep him. That, in my mind, started last year when he asked for the Bruins to release him to play for his country at the World Jr. Championship and they obliged- even though they incurred all the risk had some catastrophic injury happened to him. That’s the kind of thing that can help strengthen the bridge to longer-term contracts and a presence with the team that showed you respect, though it would be naive in the extreme to think that a player like Pastrnak would turn down a massive offer sheet elsewhere because the B’s honored his request.

Ultimately, Backes is now a Bruin. Fans should look forward to what he can bring as someone who can do just about everything and has come up against Boston in big moments in the past. But, that doesn’t mean embracing a player without taking a hard look at the dollars and cents and where a deal like this could come back to haunt down the road.

The big question is the same for all GMs who are spending available cap space today: are you paying the player for what he did for someone else, or because you think he’s going to provide the same level of performance for you? If the answer is the latter, then we have no choice but to cross the fingers and hope that the worn tread on the tire won’t be an issue. Because if injuries force Backes out for extended periods, or his normal 20-30 goals per season drops to 10, seeing that $6M bite out of the cap will be a bitter pill.

For now, you look at the team today- and they’ve lost a little offense from Eriksson, but gained a measure of size and heaviness- made themselves tougher to play against. Backes is a good fit for Boston, and one can only hope that unlike other big-ticket free agents of the past who signed bloated deals at age 32, that he’ll stave off the effects of Father Time and be a part of a winning solution for the Bruins going forward.

***

The Bruins also re-signed trade deadline acquisition John-Michael Liles to a one-year $2M extension. That’s solid for the player who still has the wheels and puck-moving chops to be an effective middle tier role player. He helped boost the B’s offense in the first 10 days after he was picked up, but like the rest of the club, came down to earth and wasn’t able to make enough of a difference to prevent the late-season implosion.

It will be interesting to see how Liles does with a full training camp and opportunity to adjust to the new coaching staff.

However, Boston’s biggest need remains at the defense position and Sweeney has yet to address it.

Whether that comes via trade involving forward parts that can now better afford to be moved with the Backes addition or the team is looking at another bigger name (there aren’t many) UFA remains to be seen. The right-shooting Jason Demers is still on the market at the time of this writing, but probably not for long.

The 3 Amigos Podcast Episode 2: NHL Free Agency preview & Bruins draft review

The 3 Amigos- LTD (Luedeke-Tiano-Duthie) are back with our second hockey podcast on the Scouting Post after previewing the OHL in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft on Father’s Day weekend.

This podcast not only recaps the Torey Krug extension and Dennis Seidenberg buyout, but looks at the Boston Bruins’ efforts in Buffalo, breaking down all of the players and handing out (admittedly premature) grades at the end. We also preview what is shaping up to be an active NHL free agent frenzy tomorrow.

We’re already hearing rumors that Oilers Prez and GM Peter Chiarelli is bringing Milan Lucic to Edmonton on a big deal on term and AAV. Just a crazy, wild thought here, but isn’t this the kind of thing that got Chiarelli shown the door in Boston? We break it down a bit. You’ll not find many bigger supporters of Lucic than yours truly- but if we’re talking 6 or 7 years at around $6.5-7M AAV, that could pose a huge risk for the Oil. Lucic is 28 and there’s a lot of tread on his tire- this contract if the rumors are right- could end up being an albatross in relatively short order if Lucic’s body doesn’t hold up. We shall see.

We also talk about the Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson, PK Subban for Shea Weber trades and the announcement that Steven Stamkos is staying in Tampa Bay- all huge stories from June 29.

We also dive into the B’s rumors, especially the reported offer sheet stuff and possible moves for Don Sweeney and company.

It’s a veritable smorgasbord and it clocks in at slightly under 1 hour and 45 minutes.    Alas, my esteemed colleague Reed Duthie was having some internet connectivity issues, so he breaks up in parts. Everyone’s a loser because we don’t exactly get every word he says, but he brings plenty of great insights. When you hear the connection go wonky, know it is not your computer acting up on you- the issue was on our end.

Finally, I posted 3 photos of Charlie McAvoy last night and promised to explain them. Our analysis comes at the 1:31:30 mark, so if you must have that burning meaning of life-type question answered for you, skip ahead.

Or listen to the whole thing. This podcast thing is fun! (Thanks for listening and all of the support for our merry little band- enjoy the theme music)

 

Matt Beleskey- not quite your MVP but a key contributor

If not for the numbers, it would not be a stretch to argue that left wing Matt Beleskey is one of the Boston Bruins’ most valuable players over the first quarter of the 2015-16 NHL season.

The two goals and 10 points in 20 games is disappointing given he scored a career-high of 22 a year ago with the Anaheim Ducks and was expected to reach the 20-goal plateau at least this season after the B’s made him their priority target in free agency last July. Signed to a five-year pact that carries an AAV/cap hit of $3.8 million per season, Beleskey is currently the eighth-highest paid Bruin on the roster. However, this blog post will argue that he’s closer the top-five in terms of impact and importance to the team’s fortunes. That may not translate when it comes to pure production, but in terms of other traditional and advanced metrics, Beleskey has been one of the more consistent forwards on a team that has had other players provide the needed scoring impetus early on. Based on his role in Anaheim a year go, Beleskey will eventually bring more in terms of production, and when he does, his overall physicality, energy and grit will be even more significant in proper context.

Background: Beleskey was the 116th overall selection (fourth round) by Anaheim in the 2006NHL Entry Draft, spending his entire OHL career with the Belleville Bulls (2004-08). His best season was a 41-goal, 90-point affair for the Bulls in his final junior campaign in 2007-08, signing with Anaheim and spending the 2008-09 season in the AHL (he did have a two-game scoreless NHL stint with the Ducks that year.) Beleskey scored 11 goals in 60 NHL games the following season and established himself as a full-time NHLer in 2011-12. The lockout and injuries have conspired to deny him more than 70 games in a single season, but he hit a career best for goals and points last season in only 65 games. The Ducks attempted to keep him out of free agency with a contract extension offer before the regular season ended, but Beleskey opted instead to go the free agency route.

Traditional statistics: With just a pair of goals in 20 games, there is no denying that Beleskey’s production is way down from a year ago. He’s scored in a loss against Montreal and an October 31 win over Tampa Bay, so both of his goals have come against division rivals. However, his assist totals put him on pace for about 40 helpers, which will far exceed his career-best 15 assists from 2013-14. His points/60 min average is a little off from what it was a year ago, but is comparable, and he is on pace to surpass his top output of 32 points.

Granted- you expect more from your $3.8M than 40-50 points, but that’s not terrible value offensively. At even strength, where the B’s have not been the greatest this season, Beleskey is among the team’s leaders in points with a 1.89 points/60 rating. Compare that to David Krejci– 2.41; Patrice Bergeron– 1.23; Loui Eriksson– 1.73 and Brad Marchand– 1.70. That Krejci leads Beleskey by .52 P/60 5v5 is not a surprise, but would you have put money on him beating everyone else- and Bergeron by .66? Beleskey’s even strength P/60 are No. 3 on the team overall- behind Krejci and Tyler Randell (2.30), who has played a paltry 78 minutes at even strength. Beleskey’s  even strength 1.89 P/60 would be only seventh-best on the Montreal Canadiens (just ahead of Tomas Plekanec), but he would lead the Tampa Bay Lightning, whose best 5v5 player, Jonathan Drouin, has just a 1.88 P/60 to boast of.

Beleskey has not had an opportunity of any significance with the man advantage or on the penalty kill, with just 6:39 of power play time (compared to his 285:38 and counting at even strength) and 49 seconds  on the ice while shorthanded. The lack of impact on special teams is both a ding on him in terms of how valuable he is and an example of how successful he’s been despite the opportunities that his higher-scoring teammates receive in the special teams game. When you factor in the Bruins P/60 rates in all situations- Beleskey (1.97) drops to 10th on the team, with every forward on the active roster save for Frank Vatrano, Landon Ferraro, Joonas Kemppainen and Zac Rinaldo ahead of him. Colin Miller’s (2.00) rating puts him ahead of Beleskey, the only defender in the top-nine. On the Toronto Maple Leafs, for example, Beleskey’s 1.97 P/60 puts him fourth on that team.

Where Beleskey is shining is in the hits department, where he is currently in the top-10 with 82 hits, more than 4 per game on average. By comparison, Milan Lucic, the Boston forward Beleskey was widely considered to have been brought in to address the lost production from, has 78 hits in two more games. Beleskey doesn’t have Lucic’s natural size or ability to be as physically dominant, but he’s a scrappy, physical guy for his 6-foot-and change size. He’s always willing to finish his checks and make a big hit. Just ask Derek Stepan. Ouch…too soon? Que dites-vous, Alain Vigneault?

Beleskey is shooting the puck more than he did a year ago and right now, not a whole lot is going in for him, but when he starts finding the back of the net, watch for him to get on a streak. Beleskey fired five shots on Henrik Lundqvist Friday and if he continues to get pucks to the net, he’ll raise the scoring bar. A year ago, he scored 18 even strength goals on just 124 shots, a shooting percentage of 14.5 percent- well above his typical numbers (he tallied 10.3 percent in his 11-goal season during 2009-10, but typically scored at under a 10 percent clip in his other years), but most analysts predicted (correctly) a natural regression from that 14.5 percentage this season. Admittedly, the B’s need more than his current 6.67 shooting percentage, and he’s a good bet to get that number up closer to his career average of about 9-10 percent by season’s end.

Advanced statistics: Beleskey is on the positive side of the ledger in terms of goals scored for his team when he is on the ice versus goals against (per 60 minutes), with a GF60 of 2.941 and GA60 of 2.101. good for a GF percentage of 58.3. Bergeron’s even strength offensive numbers for example aren’t as good- the B’s have scored just 2.255 GF/60 but his GA/60 average is better with a 1.845.  That gives him a 55.0 GF%. Bergeron’s iCorsi (74) is higher than Beleskey’s (66) because he takes more shots, but his even strength shooting percentage is lower.

Beleskey’s PDO (shot percentage + save percentage while player is on the ice- I like this stat because it tends to be a little more predictive versus some of the others) is 101.7, which is lower than his 103.8 and 103.0 in each of the last two seasons. Bergeron’s even strength PDO is 98.8- up two percentage points from the less productive 2013-14 season, when he posted a 96.8. Even in his 30-goal campaign of two years ago, his PDO was 102.4- just .7 points higher than Beleskey’s number as of today.

Bergeron significantly overtakes Beleskey on the power play where his production is tops on the Bruins with 9.88 P/60 (he has 11 of his 21 points against Beleskey’s 0.00. Bergeron’s PDO on the power play is 120.6 (compared to his 5v5 of 98.8), which gives you an idea of just how much his production with the man advantage skews the scoring totals in his favor. The bottom line for me when I look at the two players- at even strength, where the two have similar minutes on the ice, Beleskey is the more productive (note- I said productive not better) player. I won’t peel the onion back too much more in terms of Beleskey’s zone starts or how he does when close or trailing, but he’s been one of the more consistent performers at even strength- admittedly and area that the Bruins need to improve on going forward if they want to remain in the playoff picture.

(Statistical source: Hockey Analysis.com- David Johnson)

Intangibles: Going back to July 1, when Beleskey chose the Bruins in free agency, he’s said and done all the right things. He and his wife were active on social media and quickly traveled to Boston after signing, showing their excitement to be joining the organization at a time when the team’s outlook was anything but rosy. The B’s and Don Sweeney had just traded Dougie Hamilton and more questions than answers swirled around the B’s, even though Beleskey and trade acquisition Jimmy Hayes pumped some excitement into fans who had seen their contributions while wearing other team jerseys and envisioned good things from the new additions. Thus far, the two have combined for just six goals, which is well off of expectations given that they posted a total of 41 between the two of them with the Ducks and Florida Panthers a year ago.

Beleskey is hard-nosed- he’s had a couple of fights with Minnesota’s Brett Bulmer and NY Ranger Dylan McIlrath in the past seven days, racking up an impressive 10 total hits in both contests. He’s a gritty, willing combatant, which should endear him to Bruins fans as they warm up to him in Boston and see where his consistency and ruggedness comes from.

Against McIlrath, Beleskey was out of his weight class and took some shots and jabs from the much larger former WHL pugilist and first-round pick before coming back with a right cross and then went to the ice.

Beleskey did a lot better in his scrap against Bulmer, however…

What’s more- Beleskey wants to be here. Sweeney did a good job of moving guys who didn’t feel the same way out. If you’re going to invest millions in a player- at least pay for the ones who want to be a part of the solution. These guys are only human and sometimes we forget that if someone doesn’t want it as badly, we can expect them to be professionals, but without being able to see inside a person’s heart, we don’t know if they are giving it their all. One need not do any more than simply watch the way Beleskey hurtles around the ice on every shift, looking to to make a hit or force a turnover if he’s anywhere near the puck when someone with another jersey has it, to know that the guy is giving it his maximum effort.

Beleskey was in the news this past week when he and his wife purchased $2,000 worth of pies and distributed them to homeless veteran charities in Boston for Thanksgiving. It’s a nice gesture from a player who has backed up his words of being proud to be a part of the Bruins organization with the kind of gritty play the team values, as well as taking the time to give back to the community.

Summary: The Bruins are getting the guy they coveted from the West Coast. The goals aren’t there, but he’s brought a needed effort each and every night and plays hard, providing the all-important leadership by example. His 10 points in 20 games has him on pace for his best offensive season, and he’s creating space for his line mates with his physical brand of hockey. Beleskey doesn’t have the natural size to be a classic and even feared power forward, but he’s not shy about sticking his nose in and taking one for the team.

There are some who will just point to the $3.8M cap hit and draw a direct correlation to the downturn in goals, but when you consider that some pundits were predicting him to sign for upwards of $4.5 or 5 million last July, the Bruins are getting solid value. At age 27 and with four more years on the books, he’ll probably live up to the contract and then some so long as he can stay healthy. Because of his kamikaze style of play, it takes a toll on his average frame. However, when all is said and done, no one will ever accuse Beleskey of being soft.

In short, you win with guys like that, and this is why- as we look at Boston’s record after 22 games- they sit at a solid 13-8-1 overall. There aren’t many who would have put money on them being 5 games over .500 at the quarter pole with the team they had on paper coming into the season. Beleskey’s contributions, especially at even strength when the power play has not been there to carry the club offensively, are a big reason you can make a case that he’s right up there with the big guns- Krejci, Bergeron, Marchand, Eriksson as one of the team’s most valuable players during this stretch of the season.

 

Special K: Why David Krejci’s resurgence matters

When the Boston Bruins drafted David Krejci at the end of the second round (Detroit’s pick acquired via Los Angeles a year earlier at the 2003 NHL draft) the Czech teenager had frosted highlights in his hair and used then-B’s scout and former draft choice Otto Hascak to translate for him. He didn’t have anything all that profound to say to reporters, but the team’s front office gushed in the usual way about how excited the B’s were to get Krejci where they did and were effusive in their praise of his hockey sense and potential as a No. 1 or 2 NHL center.

11 years later, Krejci is among the NHL scoring leaders (albeit real early) and dropping the kind of thoughtful quotes that he’s been delivering with an articulate though soft-spoken and thickly accented delivery since 2009 or thereabouts. That was when posted his best offensive season and emerged as the top two line center current assistant GM and former amateur scouting director Scott Bradley said he could be in Raleigh, where the ’04 draft was held.

Here’s what Steve Conroy wrote about Krejci in the Boston Herald:

When David Krejci was asked after the Bruins’ 5-3 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday if he was at all surprised how quickly the Bruins’ power play has come together this season, the center seemed a bit perplexed.

It wasn’t an off-the-wall question, considering how much trouble the B’s have had on the power play in the past, but why would Krejci be surprised?

“If you go out there and don’t expect to score,” said Krejci, “then you shouldn’t be out there.”

Mic drop, please.

Krejci didn’t get his generous contract extension, the one that pays him north of $7M and represents another significant bite of the B’s salary cap apple, based on his statistics. Even by modern NHL standards, where scoring is down compared to where it was in the 1980s and early-to-mid 1990s, Krejci’s regular season production is pretty pedestrian. Where the native of Sternberk in the Czech Republic has raised the bar and proven his worth is in the playoffs, when his points-per-game average rises from 0.75 to 0.83. Had not not been for his struggles in the 2014 postseason (he wasn’t alone, either) with a mere 4 assists in 12 games, that postseason average would be even higher.

But Krejci has also proven his worth as a leader and student of the game. He might be a quiet guy by nature, whose voice is so soft that you’re out of luck if caught in the very back of a postgame scrum without a recorder that can pick up a pin drop or canine-like hearing; but don’t be fooled. Krejci is one of the fiercest, most driven and uncomprising competitors in that room.

The players know it. The coaches know it. Management does too. And the fans, well…let’s just say that in the world of salary cap, flashy plays and what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, even if some of them are aware of how good a teammate he is, it didn’t matter to many given the lack of scoring in the 2014 playoffs and the carryover to last season, much of it spent on the IR.

Right now, Krejci is in his prime at age 29, and he’s playing like one of Boston’s top paid players for a pretty simple reason: he knows that he must.

In an effort to get Boston’s salary cap situation better under control, more in the way of established talent left the team than came in last summer. Slow start in Los Angeles aside, Milan Lucic still represented a significant loss in production (not to mention one of Krejci’s established wingers), so it was critical for the veteran center to not only begin the new season healthy, but find away to translate his effort into production.

Krejci is not a dynamic skater, so to the untrained eye, he can look at times like he’s floating and not getting much accomplished. However, when you break down the goals he’s been scoring and the plays he’s made in the first five games, you see a player who is performing not only with confidence, but is emulating that critical element of any real NHL scorer: the ability to get to the right spaces in the offensive zone where he can either get the puck to the teammate best positioned to finish, or…screw it…score the goal himself.

Go back and look at his power play goal against Arizona. When he takes the pass from Torey Krug, he’s in that sweet spot by the left faceoff dot, coiled like a cobra ready to strike and he one-times a bullet that Coyotes goalie Mike Smith had no chance-none- of stopping. Unless Krejci hit him with it, which, he didn’t.

Krejci’s resurgence matters because the best way a player like him can lead is by example. When the younger skaters on the team watch how effective he is, see how he creates magic from the mundane but does it with a set of tools that has never earned him a great deal of respect outside of Boston, they realize that with a willingness to work and do the best with what you’ve been given, good things are possible indeed.

Like Patrice Bergeron, Krejci isn’t a rah-rah, in-your-face fiery leader who demands accountability and isn’t shy about calling people out. He speaks softly, carries a big stick and when he does have something to say, his mates listen. It isn’t an accident that Krejci wears an ‘A’ on his sweater. It’s not just because he’s scoring and winning faceoffs- the other players in the room look at him and say- “That’s the kind of veteran I want to be like,” and they embrace his example.

One day, when he hangs up the skates, Krejci is going to coach hockey at a high level. He won’t be a fiery bench boss, nor will he rub elbows and hold court with those who cover his teams. But, to those future charges he’ll mentor and train, he’ll teach them more about the game and how to be successful professionals than most.

That’s a long way off, though. For now- he’s making a difference and helping his team get back on track after an 0-3 start. If you ask him, he’ll say that winning is all that matters, and he’s telling the truth.

But deep down inside, like any driven competitor who has found himself on the receiving of biting criticism at times, he couldn’t be happier to be getting the points. And he’ll work even harder to make sure they keep coming.

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.