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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cam Fowler factor

Opening with this…(not just because it’s great- thanks to those on Twitter who turned me onto it a few months back when I asked about their favorite cover songs of all time- but because this is kind of how I am gauging that Bruins fans feel about the efforts to shore up the defense since the offseason began way back in April.)

(Video courtesy of Disturbed)

Now, for the hockey part of the post-

If Blues veteran D Kevin Shattenkirk is likely off the table as described in the post today on Boston’s ongoing help for upgrades at the defense position, and with Jason Demers off to Florida for a solid 5-years and $4.5M a pop, is it time to revisit Anaheim’s Cam Fowler?

The 2010 1st-rounder (12th overall) from Michigan via the OHL’s Memorial Cup-winning Windsor Spitfires was rumored to be of interest by the Bruins on draft weekend. If true, can’t imagine that interest has waned. If the B’s can figure out how to make salaries match up, they certainly have some prime young assets in the system that might make Ducks GM Bob Murray budge. Would a playoff-tested SC champion like Adam McQuaid make sense for Anaheim as a starting point, with pot sweetened with another player and/or prospect? From a sheer talent-for-talent standpoint, McQuaid-Fowler doesn’t happen, but the GM is trying to win a Cup and Boston’s third-pairing baggage smasher has been there and done that. Don’t underestimate the value GMs place on veteran winners like that, even if a 1-for-1 swap won’t happen.

Fowler’s your “bridge”- he makes $4M and has 2 years left to UFA status, meaning he gives the Bruins two seasons before they have to make a decision and brings them two years closer to seeing one of their recent top-60 D selections evolve further to see where they might be as NHL players. The issue with Fowler is that he shoots left, whereas the B’s need to shore up their right-shooting talent. So, in essence- if the B’s are able to go out and get Fowler, they then probably need to add another right-shot D for depth and hope that Colin Miller takes a big step next season for them.

Interlude…some Fowler highlights (courtesy rollingdux)

Fowler is a slick offense-minded guy who boosts the power play, but isn’t the heavy-on-the-puck defensive presence that the Bruins prize, either. His Corsi numbers put him closer to a 3rd-pairing guy than a top-4 that the B’s prize, but on a defense by committee approach, Fowler isn’t the worst idea.  That could be a sticking point in terms of how much pursuit Boston is willing to engage in here. Ideally, Hampus Lindholm would be the prize from Anaheim, but let’s get real- not happening. If it does come to pass, then short of a catastrophic scenario of a return going to the Ducks, I’d say the Boston GM will have earned the “Sweenius” nickname.

As for other options…James Wisniewski shoots right and is still out there as of July 2, but after signing a big bucks deal with Columbus in 2011, he had one impressive 51-point campaign in 2013-14, sandwiched by a lot of mediocrity and injuries. Can’t imagine the Bruins are willing to invest a great deal on him, but with his buy-out, who knows? He might be champing at the bit to get a short-term deal done and prove his worth. The Wiz presents a major injury risk, but he could add an element of boom potential as well.

You’d think that if fellow 2010 draft pick Brandon Gormley was of interest, the B’s would have added him already. For another downright disappointment, former Ducks prospect and uber-collegian Justin Schultz helped the Penguins win a Stanley Cup and then was not QO’d. Go figure. And to think- I was once mocked for daring to suggest that the Bruins got the best free agent D in Torey Krug in 2012 when they signed him out of Michigan State. Take that, Twitter!

The Bruins have had bad luck with Russians and this guy is another left-shooter, but if I’m Don Sweeney, I pick up the phone and dial Brian McLellan to see if the Capitals are willing to talk trade for Dmitri Orlov. Just saying- the advanced stats crowd will tell you that he’s undervalued, and you don’t hear much about him coming out of D.C. these days.

The very excellent cap resource General Fanager has a list of available free agents here:

http://www.generalfanager.com/freeagents

General Fanager has picked up the torch where Cap Geek blazed a bold trail. In truth- I miss my old Hockey’s Future buddy and CG founder Matthew Wuest– you touched so many, my friend. Godspeed to you and those who loved you the most. RIP, Matt.

But, let’s get back to the topic at hand: If Fowler is indeed dealt, add him to the growing list of top-30 picks from that pretty solid draft class that has been traded. 15 of the 30 are no longer with the teams that drafted them before age 25, and Fowler would push the needle north of 50 percent. That’s unheard of, even if ultimately trivial to the matter at hand.

In Backes aftermath, the Bruins still need a D

Your Scouting Post founder was on 98.5 today with Hardy and Chris Gasper (great guys who know how to ask the right questions, I would add- always love talking hockey with them) and the subject of the Boston Bruins’ elephant in the room- the clear and present need to upgrade the defense naturally came up.

To paraphrase- I talked about a “bridge” D- someone young and talented enough to help grow the team while recognizing that Don Sweeney is not going to be able to likely find a true heir apparent to Zdeno Chara via trade. We now know that Sweeney was trying hard last winter to wrangle Blues veteran and former BU star Kevin Shattenkirk from St. Louis in an aborted deal involving Loui Eriksson and the San Jose 1st-rounder that went from 18th to 29th (the B’s chose USA center Trent Frederic with it after finding no takers at the 2016 draft).

(Audio file courtesy of 98.5 the Sports Hub)

(EDIT- I mentioned Ryan Spooner as a possible “tradable commodity”- I am *not* advocating Spooner be moved at all. I responded to a direct question about the possibility of David Krejci being dealt and responded with my reasoning as to why that is less of a possibility. TSP has been and will continue to be a supporter of Spooner’s as a player who has the modern NHL skill set and has grown immeasurably since Boston drafted him in 2010. However, in order to get you must give and the Bruins’ cupboards aren’t overflowing whenever it comes to enticing assets to trade with. That’s reality.)

With Backes and Troy Brouwer now gone, Shattenkirk probably stays in St. Louis (and I suspect there are some hurt feelings that the B’s snaked Backes with a big-ticket offer the cap-strapped Blues had no chance to match), but Sweeney could strike gold via trade if he can figure out a way to get Jacob Trouba in the fold, for example- Trouba showed enormous promise but his play has fallen off, constituting risk. At the same time- you can do much worse than a physical, skilled specimen in his early 20’s like Trouba. It won’t be cheap, but with David Backes on board the Bruins freight train (it’s certainly not a bullet-speed train, is it?), Sweeney has more trade options available to him than he did yesterday, even if the leverage is debatable. Trouba is just one example- the B’s are undoubtedly looking at other options that might not only be that “bridge” but potentially a talent that could eventually evolve into a star. To say nothing of the impressive crop of recent Boston draft picks who are several years away yet, but could give the team the relief it seeks at the position. The problem with trading for such a promising talent is in the cost, and that’s a drum Sweeney has been beating for some time now. Or more succinctly- it takes two to tango.

“There’s not a level of disappointment,” Sweeney said about his quest for upgrading the defense in Friday’s media conference call to announce Backes and the other signings on day 1 of the NHL’s open hiring period. “If deals don’t materialize you guys both understand the types of players that were exchanged and the quality of players in the last few days. Things have to line up. People do not want to part with those types of players.”

There was talk of an offer sheet (James Murphy and Joe Haggerty doing the initial reporting) potentially being prepared for a defenseman in the days leading up to July 1. My good friend and hockey savant Dom Tiano, who is pretty well connected himself, confirmed hearing similar chatter and was tipped that the team was preparing a buyout in advance. That domino fell with Thursday’s Dennis Seidenberg announcement, which led to the Torey Krug four-year extension. But in our Thursday “3 Amigos” podcast with Dom and Reed Duthie of the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs (such a passionate, articulate and informed hockey mind!) Tiano brought up the key point that the buyout was not there (as offered up by former Bruins D turned hockey analyst Aaron Ward) to give flexibility to sign Krug- the B’s had plenty of space to do that all along.

What gets interesting is that the *assumption* (and what’s the old saying about what those do to ‘u’ and ‘me’?) was that Trouba would be an offer sheet target. Entirely plausible…but that was never firmly established.

Now, the thing about offer sheeting anyone is that it is a strategy that invites anger and delayed retaliation. In the gentleman’s NHL, signing to someone to an offer sheet isn’t just burning the bridge…it’s detonating a copious amount of C4 explosive to annihilate it…leaving no trace behind. At the same time- offer sheets have been done in the past with mixed results. The Bruins were reportedly trying to re-acquire the pick they dealt to New Jersey Devils (for the now Carolina Hurricane Lee Stempniak) or the third-rounder Sweeney foolishly peddled to Philly for Zac Rinaldo (can’t defend it, folks- sorry) to give the B’s the kind of flexibility on an offer sheet to avoid paying max cost and the four 1st-rounders (Dom covers this on the podcast, so if you haven’t listened yet, what are you waiting for?)

What does this all mean? Your guess is as good as mine, but there’s chatter that the B’s are looking at moving Adam McQuaid (he and Kevan Miller are redundant for what they provide, but that cap hit on both contracts is anything but redundant- something’s gotta give) and we can’t think Sweeney is finished with shaping his defense.

Let’s go back to Sweeney and more of his comments about the defense yesterday:

“We’ve set a course here to identify some areas that we needed to strengthen,” he said.  “And the last, you know, for the last year, we’re almost to a year on the job here for myself and the number of young players, in particular in defense and some of the center positions that we’ve added, will complement the young players of skill that we have on the wings. And you have to exercise some patience in this regard.

“These players don’t just grow up overnight and turn into NHL players. And we’re going to have to exercise patience, you know. Our group as it stands has a balance to it with hardness of [Zdeno] Chara and Kevan Miller and [Adam] McQuaid. [John-Michael] Liles brings a veteran savvyness that he can play with Colin Miller. Joe Morrow is an emerging player and Torey [Krug], we’re very happy to have him signed. You know that being said, we have other young players in the pipeline that are going to be welcoming an opportunity and we have to at some point in time continue to provide that and let them step up. Will it stop me from pursuing having conversations that I’ve maybe planted seeds or whatever? But again it’s going to take…you know there’s a high acquisition cost for these types of players and I think you’re better served to identify them, grow them and put them in the lineup when they’re ready to play.”

The cynics and skeptics will focus on the last sentence and say that Sweeney is hedging his bets and allowing for the possibility that he won’t be able to get anything done trade-wise. My gut says that as a former 1000+ game NHL defenseman, Sweeney knows his group is in the hurt box without at least one substantial add.

Offer sheet? Trade? I believe that the trade route is far preferable to blasting the bridge he will no doubt incur if Boston goes down that road. The threat of an offer sheet might be enough to get a GM to the table to take Sweeney’s offer more seriously. Hey- if nothing else- we can at least opine that the B’s GM speaks from experience. Whether true or not, that was the talk surrounding the hasty decision to move Dougie Hamilton at the 2015 NHL draft for futures.

I don’t have the answers, but there is certainly an element of fans and observers who are sharpening their knives because of a lack of movement on defense yesterday. Understandable. However, training camp doesn’t open until mid-September, so I would offer up the idea that a little more patience wouldn’t hurt. Ultimately, whether you are pessimistic because the B’s opted to bring in an experienced but aging forward in lieu of finding a way to get a key piece on D, or you are a little more optimistic because Backes gives him insurance and options, we can probably all agree that Sweeney isn’t finished.

Whether his next big move will be seen as an “a-ha!” moment after a series of transactions fell in place to set it up, or it will be more of a “I can’t believe they just (bleeping) did that!” remains to be seen.

What we do know is that right, wrong or indifferent- the Bruins are adding pieces that address what the club’s leadership said was the direction they wanted to go in. We’ll all have to see if they have it right or whether the B’s are headed for rougher oceans ahead.

“I think (our team) has the ability to play in all three zones,” Sweeney said.  “For our standpoint, Riley Nash, you look at possession, you look at versatility to play both center, wing, PK, go up and down the lineup. We’ve still got other young players that I mentioned that are going to be given opportunities in these roles. We need to do a better job. Once we get pucks into the offensive zone, being able to withstand that cycle game and possession, it’s not just going to be about off the rush.

“Albeit, we have skill coming that is going to complement this group and play a little faster pace, that we have balance on the back end that we’re building in depth there. I think that you have to be prepared to play, have an identity, which we will, play a 200-foot game.”

 

4 more years! Krug signs $5.25M AAV with B’s

ToreyKrug10082

Torey Krug has been consistent in the early going on a defensive unit that has had some tough nights. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

More grist to discuss in the forthcoming 3 Amigos- LTD podcast tonight, but the Boston Bruins announced that defenseman Torey Krug has signed a four-year extension worth an annual cap hit of $5.25M.

This simply had to be done.

Krug catches a lot of flak- a lot- because he’s an undersized defender. He’s got terrific hockey sense and the heart of a lion. I can’t get over how so many pretty intelligent people still see him as “just” specialist, but we’ll have to agree to disagree, I suppose- until Krug brings them into the light.

First- the contract…it’s about right for what players similar to Krug are getting. Just look at Minnesota’s Jared Spurgeon (Krug is a better player- more productive and in all three zones, IMO) or Anaheim’s Sami Vatanen. He’s right in the ballpark for what it takes, and I think those who take the stance that he’s “not worth it” or “overpaid” are brimming with suggestions of just how able Boston would have been to offer up the absurd $3-3.5M numbers that have been bandied about on Twitter and certain fan circles. You can feel that way all you want, but reality set in and TSP is fully on board with the numbers Krug got- he earned it.

Another way of looking at it is this: he shot about 1 percent in 2015-16 (4 goals), which was drastically down from his previous 8-9 percent from past seasons. If Krug had gone out and pumped in an additional 10-12 goals over what he got and finished with 55-60 points instead of his career high 44 (40 helpers), then the Bruins would have been paying a lot more to extend him. His low goal totals were actually a blessing in disguise. And don’t forget- he had an injured shoulder and played through it without complaint. If you don’t think that affected his shot, then I have some awesome ocean front property in Manitoba to sell you.

The real issue with Krug is relatively simple- he needs a better defense partner than Adam McQuaid. The former Michigan State captain’s lack of size limits him, so it makes sense to pair him with a bigger, heavier shutdown guy. But McQuaid’s lack of mobility and puck skills contributed to the pair being exposed and exploited at times. When the play did go down into the offensive zone, Boston’s scoring potential was capped by Quaider’s lack of skill/offensive pop. Krug would probably do better with someone like Brandon Carlo or Rob O’Gara, or, if the rumors are to be believed- free agent Jason Demers (assuming the Bruins can win the bidding for him in July). McQuaid is a great guy and his role on this team (though with Kevan Miller, something’s gotta give- the B’s can’t afford to keep both) belongs on the bottom pairing, but the B’s need Krug playing more minutes in all situations, and so he’s got to have a more effective partner going forward.

We owe you a more comprehensive Torey Krug piece and it is coming…perhaps when things settle down a bit. But if there is one guy on this team that many feel like the Boston fans don’t deserve at times because they simply do not get it when it comes to him- it’s Krug. We’ll try, but suspect there is a small percentage of people who, no matter what the statistical and visual evidence says to the contrary, are just going to focus on his lack of size and pigeonhole him as someone who can’t make a difference.

He made a much bigger impact this year than some want to admit, and he’s earned this latest contract, which will take him to unrestricted free agency at age 29 in the summer of 2020. For now, watch him earn every penny.

For a fanbase that claims to be intelligent, informed and passionate about having guys with skill who care, it is utterly inconceivable that anyone is against this signing. In about a year, Krug will be a legitimate bargain at $5.25M through 2020.

If I have any real criticism of the deal- it’s that the Bruins didn’t sign him for seven years instead of four. Yes, I like him that much- he’s worth it.

 

 

2015-16 Boston Bruins in Red Line over the years

I have every Red Line Report draft guide going back to 1999, the first year that the service issued the guide in its known format.

Periodically, I go back and look at what the draft year scouting reports and rankings looked like, so I thought that to help get the juices flowing in anticipation for the 2016 draft (as if the B’s draft strategy post from last night wasn’t enough, right?) I’d do the exercise for all of you here on the blog and take a trip in the wayback machine (or in the case of David Pastrnak– not so wayback) and see what you all think.

I’ll do it in numerical order on the Boston roster, so here we go:

11- Jimmy Hayes, RW Drafted: 2008 (2nd round- Toronto)

Red Line ranking: 146

Key comment: “Huge kid with good hands has wasted a lot of talent.”

2016 verdict: At the time, 146 was excessively low for where the Leafs drafted Hayes, but he hasn’t exactly proven RLR wrong, either. Few players did more to frustrate observers this season than Hayes. He’s huge but doesn’t play to his size, but the biggest issue was with how his offense cratered at crunch time. It’s tough to play with heightened expectations and pressures that come with coming home to be on the team you dreamed of skating for, but Hayes has the raw material to at least become a more consistent contributor going forward without the profound peaks and valleys he went through.

14- Brett Connolly, RW Drafted: 2010 (1st round- Tampa Bay)

Red Line ranking: 13

Key comment: “Great talent; only injury keeps him out of top-5.”

2016 verdict: Connolly has been anything but a “great” talent as a pro. It’s hard to fathom where the sixth overall selection six years ago went wrong, but he might be out of time in Boston, even though he only recently turned 24. If the B’s could figure out a way to get him going, it would be huge for them. He’s been a huge disappointment thus far, if not an outright bust given how highly regarded he was by just about everyone in 2010.

20- Lee Stempniak, RW Drafted: 2003 (5th round- St. Louis)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

2016 verdict: Oversight! Stempniak has been a serviceable NHL winger since breaking in with the Blues in 2005-06 after Dartmouth. He’s played almost 800 career NHL games for 9 teams- the modern-era Brent Ashton.

21- Loui Eriksson, RW/LW Drafted: 2003 (2nd round- Dallas)

Red Line ranking: 59

Key comment: “Came on like gangbusters down the stretch.”

2016 verdict: Eriksson was one of Boston’s top players last season, and despite not being traded at the deadline, was a good Bruin after being the central piece in the disastrous Tyler Seguin return from 2013. At 31, he’s set to cash in on a free agent payday, which means it won’t happen in Boston, but he’s performed well ahead of the 59th overall projection from 13 years ago.

23- Chris Kelly, C/W  Drafted: 1999 (3rd round- Ottawa)

Red Line ranking: 78

Key comment: “Tenacious and relentless in puck pursuit.”

2016 verdict: Although a broken femur cost Kelly all but 11 games of the 2015-16 season, he has gone on to have a successful NHL career as a checking center who was a key contributor to Boston’s Stanley Cup championship in 2011. The veteran has been a Boston scapegoat because of the 4-year contract extension he got in 2012 coming off a career-best 20 goals, but he’s been pretty much exactly what RLR said he would be and has always brought character and leadership to any team he’s been on.

26- John-Michael Liles, D Drafted: 2000 (5th round- Colorado)

Red Line ranking: 159

Key comment: “Another small offensively-skilled d-man.”

2016 verdict: After being drafted 159th overall, the Avalanche took Liles exactly where RLR had him in their 2000 draft guide. 800 NHL games later, Liles has shown that the size bias that clearly existed 16 years ago had little impact on his ability to play at the highest level. He’s been a successful puck-moving, offensive defenseman over the life of his career, albeit one who is a complementary piece and more of a power play performer than a true difference-maker at present.

29- Landon Ferraro, LW Drafted: 2009 (2nd round- Detroit)

Red Line ranking: 38

Key comment: “Everybody like’s Ray’s kid more than we do.”

2016 verdict: Looks like RLR was onto something…Originally projected as a top-six scorer at the NHL level, Ferraro finally established himself at in the big show after Boston plucked him from the Red Wings off of waivers. However, seven years after being one of the first picks of the second round, he looks like a capable grinder, but has demonstrated none of the impressive upside he had in his draft year with Red Deer. Speedy and smart, Ferraro doesn’t have the high-end skills to be a top scorer, but looks like a solid role player who will likely bounce around.

30- Jeremy Smith, G Drafted:  2007 (2nd round- Nashville)

Red Line ranking: 29

Key comment: “Long, lean flexible netminder is the best of a mediocre crop.”

2016 verdict: Yikes! First-round billing even with that caveat for a player who has yet to play an NHL game. Although, for what it’s worth- Scott Darling is the only goalie of note to come out of the 1989-born class. Smith, who came to Boston as a free agent two years ago, has yet to suit up for an NHL game, although he’s been very good in the AHL.

33- Zdeno Chara, D Drafted: 1996 (3rd round- NY Islanders)

Red Line ranking: not available

2016 verdict: Future HHOFer and Stanley Cup champion has been Boston’s captain since the 6-9 d-man signed a decade ago, but Father Time has caught up to him. The great draft value pick (77th overall) by Mike Milbury 20 years ago turns 40 this season and Boston’s priority must be to surround him with a better supporting cast. Given how low he was out of the radar in Slovakia, it is doubtful he would have been high on anyone’s list back then.

37- Patrice Bergeron, C Drafted: 2003 (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 71

Key comment: “Not big or fast but smart and productive.”

2016 verdict: Missed opportunity! When I was scouting the U18s with my Red Line boss Kyle Woodlief, the subject of Bergeron came up and he ruefully admitted that he missed on him rankings-wise. Woodlief really liked him (as evidenced by the comment above) but said Bergeron had two things working against him at the time: 1- he had only played the 1 season in the QMJHL in his draft year after spending his 16-YO year in midget AAA; and 2- Acadie-Bathurst is an out-of-the-way hockey backwater. No excuses- RLR got it wrong, but the Bruins and Scott Bradley didn’t, at the time “reaching” for Patrice when other sexier names were available (the team used the compensation pick they got from the NHL when Bill Guerin bolted for Dallas to take Bergeron, btw). He wanted Bergeron in the 1st round that year, but the team knew they could roll the dice and get him at 45 whereas Mark Stuart would not have been there for them in the 2nd. If they had known how important Bergeron would be to this franchise, they never would have risked it, but that’s the draft for you. Bergeron’s #37 will one day hang from the TD Garden rafters, and he’s got a shot at the Hockey Hall of Fame when all is said and done. As Chris Kelly likes to say, Bergeron is Boston’s “Mr Everything”- a modern-day Milt Schmidt if you will.

39- Matt Beleskey, LW Drafted: 2006 (4th round- Anaheim)

Red Line ranking: 122

Key comment: “Playing against him is like nails on a chalkboard.”

2016 verdict: Correctly projected for the draft, but a little low given what he provides as a solid third-liner. After signing as a free agent last July, the former Belleville Bull was arguably Boston’s most consistent player wire-to-wire last season, he delivered what the team was looking for. Obviously, you’d like to see more goals after he topped the 20-goal mark the previous year with the Ducks, but he set a new high in assists and points, provided a large amount of hits and was that gritty leader by example type the Bruins need.

40- Tuukka Rask, G Drafted: 2005 (1st round- Toronto)

Red Line ranking: 14

Key comment: “Wins our annual Mr. Gumby flexibility award.”

2016 verdict: The former Vezina Trophy winner had an up and down season but Carey Price and Rask were RLR’s top goalies in the 2005 draft and that’s how it’s played out in their careers as both have been recognized as the top player at their position (with Price earning a league MVP nod as well). When on top of his game, Rask is an elite puck stopper, but he’s also shown that like most, with a porous defense in front of him, he can’t carry the team on his back. It will be interesting to see what the Bruins do with him in the long term, as he turns 30 next March and will be in the fourth of the seven-year extension he signed in 2013 that is a $7-million annual chunk of change on Boston’s cap.

 

44- Dennis Seidenberg, D Drafted: 2001 (6th round- Philadelphia)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

2016 verdict: It was a tough season for the game but rapidly declining German. He signed a four-year, $16M extension in the 2013-14 season, only to suffer a catastrophic knee injury shortly thereafter, costing him the rest of the campaign. He hasn’t been the same player since, losing mobility (he wasn’t ever a plus skater to begin with) and effectiveness as an aging defender who struggles to be the effective shutdown presence he was from 2010-14. The B’s could be looking at trading him or buying him out (he has two years remaining on his contract at $4M per), but he’s been counted on to log a lot of minutes on the second pairing without much effectiveness over the last two seasons.

 

45- Joe Morrow, D Drafted: 2011 (1st round- Pittsburgh)

Red Line ranking: 30

Key comment: “Few made bigger strides than this fine puck mover.”

2016 verdict: It looks like RLR had it right, as Morrow has made the NHL and shows flashes, but has not yet established himself as a regular. The Penguins made Morrow their top choice in 2011 (23rd overall) after he impressed with his skating, passing and shot as a member of the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. He was dealt to Dallas for veteran Brenden Morrow (no relation) in 2013. He was then moved to Boston as part of the Seguin trade a few months later on July 4. The skating and the passing are clearly evident, but Morrow has not asserted himself all that much in the Boston lineup, playing a relatively conservative brand of game. The more you watch him, the more you start to come to the conclusion that he’s essentially a complementary 4/5 defender who could thrive on a deeper blue line corps, but isn’t going to emerge as a top performer and one who can carry the mail.

 

46- David Krejci, C Drafted: 2004 (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 130

Key comment: “Tiny but great hockey sense.”

2016 verdict: Like Bergeron, the B’s got outstanding value from a player who was ranked far too low by Red Line in his draft year. In fact, Krejci wasn’t really regarded by anyone- Central Scouting rated him just 21st overall on their Euro ranking behind such luminaries Rostislav Olesz, Lauri Tukonen, Kirill Lyamin and Sergei Ogorodnikov to name a few. Because Boston had traded their first- and second-round picks that year to Washington for Sergei Gonchar, Krejci’s selection at the end of the second round (from Los Angeles via Detroit for Jozef Stumpel in a deal made a year earlier at the 2003 draft) was met with a collective shrug, but 12 years later, he’s broken into Boston’s all-time top-20 scorers list and has been one of the team’s best offensive players during his tenure. Unfortunately for Krejci, his hot start cooled off considerably, aided by a hip injury that required offseason surgery. Because he’s got a small frame, the physical toll on him is starting to catch up, making his $7.25M annual cap hit and lengthy extension done by Peter Chiarelli in the 2014-15 season something to watch. On sheer achievement alone, however- Krejci’s career numbers (even better in the playoffs when Boston has gotten in) have made his draft rankings look silly. After Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, who went 1-2 overall that year, Krejci is the third most productive player of the 2004 class.

 

47- Torey Krug, D Undrafted: 2012 (Free Agent- Boston)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

2016 verdict: The undersized former Michigan State captain posted career highs for assists and points, but his goal totals fell off a cliff, finishing with just four tallies. Despite being a productive defenseman not only in the USHL, where he helped the Indiana Ice win a Clark Cup championship, but in three seasons at Michigan State where he was named captain in just his second year in East Lansing, Krug got nary a sniff on anyone’s rankings. In hindsight, he was dinged for size bias, but has become a go-to player for the Bruins since they signed him in the spring of 2012 and he burst onto the NHL scene against the Rangers in the second round of the 2013 playoffs. He’s due a new contract, but as currently constructed, no one else on the Boston defense can do what Krug can. With the right partner, he could be even more effective and productive than he’s been so far. The low goal totals were an aberration, but consider this- if he had scored his usual 12-15 markers this past season, he’d be in line to get a lot more on his next deal. The down season in goals might be a blessing in disguise for Boston when it comes to negotiations, but anyone who doesn’t think he’ll get $5M at least is fooling themselves. The B’s will pay the market rate and if Minnesota’s Jared Spurgeon got it, so will Krug- he’s a better player.

 

48- Colin Miller, D Drafted:2012 (5th round- Los Angeles)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

2016 verdict: Swing and a miss for RLR on a player who was first eligible in 2011 and played very little for the Soo Greyhounds but caught the eye of the Kings after attending their development camp and was drafted a year later. Acquired in the Milan Lucic trade, Miller made the big club out of camp but had trouble staying in the lineup. He has some of the most impressive skills of any Boston defenseman but his defensive instincts and decision-making are a work in progress. Many fans wanted “Chiller” in the lineup over Kevan “Killer” Miller, but the Boston coaches saw things differently. The younger Miller has the ever-desired upside, but he’s also got a lot to learn about playing the position, as he was a healthy scratch down in Providence during the season after being sent down. This is the kind of thing that fans sometimes don’t pick up on- it’s one thing for the Boston coaches to pull a player from the lineup, but when the AHL coaches do as well, then there’s obviously something there that the player isn’t doing. Miller still has impressive potential as a late-born 1992, but he benefited from shiny new toy syndrome last year. Now, he needs to work to demonstrate his value and worth as a two-way D, not just someone who can bring the offense.

 

50- Jonas Gustavsson, G Undrafted: 2009 (Free Agent- Toronto)

Red Line ranking: 1*- on RLR draft guide’s top-10 European free agents list

Key comment: “Extremely flexible and smooth side-to-side.”

2016 verdict: “The Monster” was the top free agent target in 2009 and got a big ticket deal with the Leafs, but never really had the kind of anticipated impact given his tremendous performance in Sweden before coming over. Injuries have contributed to him never really establishing himself as a top-flight No. 1 in the NHL, but after being a training camp invite last year, he played well for the Bruins as a backup. It is unfortunate that in the last game of the season against Ottawa, when Rask couldn’t go due to illness and the B’s took a 1-0 lead, that Gustavsson ended up playing a pretty mediocre game. The team collapsed in front of him, but he didn’t do them many favors, either. Don’t expect a reprise for the 31-year-old in Boston this year.

 

51- Ryan Spooner, C Drafted: 2010 (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 29

Key comment: “Creative playmaker was derailed by injury.”

2016 verdict: A power play weapon, Spooner had his peaks and valleys at even strength but completed his first full NHL season by establishing career highs in all categories. He was drafted 45th overall in 2010, and in retrospect, he should have been picked 32nd overall by Boston with Jared Knight going at 45 (well, if the team had a do-over Knight wouldn’t have been picked at all in the round, but spilt milk). Spooner has outperformed some ranked before him and many after, but it has taken him a while to establish himself in Claude Julien’s system. Truth be told- Bruins fans are fortunate that he’s still in the organization given the way things appeared to be headed in early 2015. He’s got the NHL talent to be a top-two center, but in Boston, he’s got to figure out how to be consistent and impactful as their third-line guy. T’s worth noting that when Krejci was injured in late December and Spooner moved to the second line for several weeks, he played the best NHL hockey of his career.

 

54- Adam McQuaid, D Drafted: 2005 (2nd round- Columbus)

Red Line ranking: 68

Key comment: “Nobody talks about him but he has good raw tools.”

2016 verdict: When it comes to toughness and rugged play on the back end, they don’t come much more game than “Quaider.” He was a surprise late second-round pick by Columbus but his skating was an even bigger issue then than it is now. Facing the prospect of not signing him and losing him to free agency, the Blue Jackets traded McQuaid to Boston in late May, 2007 for a fifth-round pick. That draft choice, subsequently flipped to Dallas, ended up being none other than Jamie Benn. Go figure. McQuaid is a great guy- one of the best I have covered on the Bruins in my 16 years with NEHJ, but he’s limited and has never played a complete, injury-free season. Oh, and he turns 30 in October, too. There have been whispers that at least one NHL team has expressed interest in him, so don’t be surprised to see a trade at some point this offseason. It would at least begin to explain why the Bruins locked up Kevan Miller.

 

62- Zach Trotman, D Drafted: 2010 (7th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

2016 verdict: The final player selected in the 2010 NHL draft has appeared in games with Boston for each of the past three seasons, but this could be it for the Indiana native and Lake Superior State product. He has NHL size and skating, but found himself often the odd-man out on a crowded blue line with similar mid-to-lower tier defenders who all bring something similar to the table. Trotman worked hard to reach the NHL and is a solid citizen who could hook on in a different organization that has need for his ability as a serviceable role player.

 

63- Brad Marchand, LW Drafted: 2006 (3rd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 115

Key comment: “Super skilled little waterbug with some jam.”

2016 verdict: Marchand was the team’s best success stories in a tough season after setting personal bests in goals and points. Red Line had him ranked lower than he went (early third round) and Marchand has been the most productive of any player selected in the same round that year. He’s a top performer and goal threat, despite his lack of height and stature. Some of what might have contributed to his lower draft ranking was off-ice/maturity concerns, but to Marchand’s credit, he’s established himself as a Boston regular and fan favorite, albeit one who still lets his emotions get the best of him on occasion, but who has become one of the team’s top performers in the clutch. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2017…cha-ching! Boston can begin negotiating with him this year on an extension to prevent that from happening, but it’s going to cost a lot.

 

64- Tyler Randell, RW Drafted: 2009 (6th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 164

Key comment: “He will go higher than this but frustrates us greatly.”

2016 verdict: Actually, he went right about where RLR said he should, which is interesting. The late-rounder out of Belleville and Kitchener of the OHL. Randell made his NHL debut for Boston and provided more value for scoring vs. minutes played than anyone in the lineup. Although often a healthy scratch and relegated to bottom line duty, Randell made the most of his gifts: slick hands and toughness. He’s got heavy feet, but hits like a truck and is a good fighter. The knock on him in junior was motivation and consistency, but he put in the work and Boston stuck with him, finally seeing their late-round investment pay some dividends.

86- Kevan Miller, D Undrafted: 2011 (Free agent- Boston)

Red Line ranking: Unranked

2016 verdict: The former Berkshire School and University of Vermont captain (from California) is as tough as nails and willed himself into the NHL after showing little big league potential at the lower levels. When used in the right role, Miller is capable. The challenge for Boston is that injuries and declining play elsewhere in the lineup caused Julien to use Miller in significant situations, and some of his limitations were exposed. For an undrafted free agent, he’s been a pleasant surprise, but without a top skill set, he’s more of a depth player thrust into a bigger role than suits him. That’s an issue.

88- David Pastrnak, RW Drafted: 2014 (1st round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 14

Key comment: “Smallish, but fiery and passionate. Lives to score.”

2016 verdict: RLR was ahead of the curve here, as Pastrnak slid down to 25th overall mostly because of a concussion that forced him out of the lineup during the key months of Jan-Mar. He made the NHL at age 18 and was a breath of fresh air for the Bruins and their fans in 2015. Last season was a bit of a step back for Pastrnak largely due to a fractured foot suffered on a shot off the skate in late October, but the foundation is in place for the future face of the franchise. He’s got a good attitude and is willing to work- the Bruins just desperately need Pastrnak to continue his upward developmental trajectory and blossom into the 30+ goal man he’s capable of becoming.

Observations:

  1. The glaring thing that sticks out is a lack of production in the Bruins drafts to account for the current roster. Of all the B’s regulars, only one- Pastrnak (14)- carries a top-15 draft ranking by Red Line. Connolly was ranked 13th, but would have carried a higher grade if not for a hip injury that caused him to miss most of the 2009-10 season. Rask was ranked 14th overall in 2005, but he was drafted by Toronto at 21st overall- just one spot ahead of Boston (Matt Lashoff) and acquired in a 2006 trade for Andrew Raycroft. Of all the other players drafted by the B’s- only Spooner (29) was a projected first-rounder (Morrow at 30, but he was drafted by PIT). There are no top-10 draft-projected (by RLR) players anywhere on Boston’s active roster.
  2. Phil Kessel (2), Tyler Seguin (2) and Dougie Hamilton (5) are the highest-rated Red Line guys Boston drafted going back 10 years, but they’re helping other teams. Ironically, Seguin and Hamilton were both had for Kessel…all the B’s have left to show for moving Seguin to Dallas is Morrow and possibly Eriksson if he re-signs in Boston. As for Hamilton, the jury is out- Zach Senyshyn, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Jeremy Lauzon might all be a part of the future equation in Boston as the three players selected with draft choices acquired from Calgary for the 2011 first-rounder.
  3. Boston’s top players Bergeron (71), Marchand (115) and Krejci (130) weren’t even ranked in the top-50 of their draft seasons. The Bruins selected all three and cultivated them as homegrown stars- where would the team be without them?
  4. Only one player- Chara- had no record to consult with Red Line, but six roster regulars in 2015-16 were not even ranked by RLR: Stempniak, Seidenberg, Krug, C. Miller, K. Miller and Trotman.

Conclusion: The Bruins simply must get more production from their drafts. They’ve managed to make some value picks over the years, but management frittered away most of the high-end talent and it shows in the club’s current trajectory. No team escapes failure in the draft process to a certain degree, but when you look at how many undrafted players or guys who were not projected as impact contributors are on the roster and being employed in big roles, the importance of Boston improving their drafting and development efforts is even more critical.

I will continue the exercise with the Boston prospects to see if we have some similar trends, keeping in mind that there is no guarantee of success for them at the NHL, even if they appear to be on a solid developmental track. Watch for that post to hit in the next 24 hours.

Bruins news: Cassidy, Pandolfo join Boston coaching staff; Kevan Miller inks 4-year, $10 million extension

Tuesday brought some news out of the Boston Bruins’ camp with a pair of announcements.

The first was that Providence Bruins head coach (in his fifth season as bench boss) Bruce Cassidy and Jay Pandolfo, the B’s Director of Player Development, were both hired to replace Boston assistant coaches Doug Houda and Doug Jarvis to round out Claude Julien’s NHL coaching staff with Medford native Joe Sacco.

Cassidy is a polarizing figure among those fans who follow the development of prospects because there have been conflicts with certain players, while others have gone on to have success in Boston. Regardless of what you might think about Cassidy as Providence head coach, he’s got one of the sharpest hockey minds and I’ve always found his willingness to talk in detail about players…both the good and the bad…to be refreshing. In a hockey culture where many coaches either spout endless but empty platitudes about players or put out a word salad that tells you essentially nothing about how they feel about a particular individual, Cassidy is a guy who gives it to you straight and doesn’t mince words.

That doesn’t tell you how effective he’ll be as an NHL assistant coach, though I suspect he’ll do a fine job working with the defensemen (given his background I’m making that assumption). It is curious to me that Cassidy is one of two assistants (along with Sacco) with NHL head coaching experience and should the B’s move on from Julien at any point in the near future, he seems like a ready-made interim replacement. That’s probably putting the cart before the horse, but it’s interesting to note.

Pandolfo is getting his first NHL coaching job after hanging them up as a Bruin following multiple Stanley Cups with the Devils followed by a short stint with the Islanders. The BU product from Burlington was one of the best defensive forwards in his prime and he’s done good work with the prospects. He’s a solid add to the staff and I wish him well.

If this announcement was met with barely a ripple, the second release, which followed news broken by colleague D.J. Bean, had a decidedly different impact.

Bean tweeted out by around noontime that per agent Peter Fish, Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller had agreed to terms on a four-year, $10 million extension to avoid unrestricted free agency and remain with Boston- a $2.5M cap hit to retain the bottom-pairing defensive defender. (Cue the Jaws theme music please and voila!)

Mills

(Photoshop compliments of Greg Ezell aka Pez-DOY on Twitter- one of the voices of the most excellent Days of Y’Orr Bruins blog. I gave him the idea, but he did the nice work on bringing the concept to life.)

If you thought Cassidy was a polarizing figure… The former University of Vermont captain, who also played prep hockey with Berkshire School, was a fan fave as a whipping boy this past season. The Bruins also put in the Miller release that they brought back Seth Griffith on a one-year, two-way contract. (More on him in a future post)

Here are some quick thoughts on the Miller re-signing, with an attempt to be balanced, even though it is sure to draw criticism from both sides. In a vacuum, this signing does not look good. At age 29, he’s  coming off a year that was a nightmare collectively for the B’s blue line. Miller was one of the faces of a team D that was a known Achilles heel entering the year and a group that eventually came apart at the seams in the final weeks of an up-and-down 2015-16 season.

The one caveat I will throw out here is that this appears to be a transaction that is setting something else up. As long as this initiates the transformation of the B’s defense, there is no reason to be on the ledge over this. If not…well, uh…I got nothing.

Kevan Miller

The Good- As a bottom-pairing defender, Miller was a find as an undrafted free agent. He skates well and plays a physical, throwback style. His sudden emergence during the 2013-14 season as an injury replacement prompted Peter Chiarelli to sign him to a two-year extension at around $850k per, which was a bargain for a hard-nosed but limited player. In 2014-15, he missed much of the year to a major shoulder injury. This past year, he missed time for various injuries but did see enough action to post a career season in terms of production (he posted a respectable 5 goals and 18 points in 71 games- good for third on the Bruins in scoring among D). When asked to play the right role, Miller has proven to be effective. He’s tough to play against, will drop the gloves to defend teammates (and is a guy many NHL opponents have learned to steer clear of) and has better foot speed than Adam McQuaid (though he’s not as big with as long a reach). Like any player who is asked to play with more responsibilities than they are capable of, he struggles when going up against the top lines and with increased minutes and time on special teams. However, when you break him down purely as a third-pair, No. 5/6 defender, Miller is not the gongshow some would have you believe. He’s a game and gritty player who is always willing to take one for the team, and when you look at his injury history- he’s backed that up.

The Bad- As mentioned previously, the B’s and coaches gave Miller much more than just a bottom-pairing role on the B’s and he was exposed more often than not as a guy over his head at this level. He’s a pretty mobile skater, but he lacks the vision and instincts to be anything more than he’s shown thus far, and he often gets into trouble when he’s got the puck on his stick, in his own end and the F1 or F2 pressure get in his face. Like most players, Miller can make the requisite passes and plays with time and space, but with the faster, more skilled NHL- he was often under pressure and looked more a deer caught in the headlights. He was victimized on multiple memorable highlight reels goals for the other team. The one word you’re left with as an analyst when it comes to the decision by the Bruins to extend him is this: Why?

As an unrestricted free agent, Miller was in a similar position to Matt Bartkowski a year ago as someone who played a serviceable role at their lower-end cap hit, but once the contract was done, essentially priced himself out of Boston, allowing Vancouver and former B’s assistant GM Jim Benning, who’d had a hand in acquiring Bart from Florida in 2010, to step in. With Miller, I’m left wondering- what was the sense of urgency to re-up the UFA-to-be now? Don Sweeney and Bruins took some heat for offering a similar extension to McQuaid last year, announced over draft weekend in June. Now, you have an essentially redundant kind of player, and one who isn’t going to develop into something much more than he already is, under contract for another four seasons, but now at about triple his previous rate. Miller was more a part of the problem than the solution last year and now he’s back.

The Ugly-

The B’s have no shortage of lower-end defensemen who provide what Miller does. Now that he’s signed, what does that do for the openings on the blue line? Again- as it stands today- you expect another trade to happen to shed a veteran or three and their salary, because between three of the team’s least productive defenders, the Bruins currently have north of $9M invested. Dennis Seidenberg’s two more years at $4 million a pop is the obvious choice to jettison, and the B’s should be able to find a taker in a team that is looking to stay above the NHL’s cap floor. Of course, that any team that takes on Seidenberg and his surgically-repaired knees isn’t going to  pay much if anything at all for him.

McQuaid is another player who could be the object of a trade. He’s one of the best guys I’ve covered on the B’s in my 16 years of doing it for New England Hockey Journal, and I have the utmost respect for “Quaider” but he’s going to turn 30 in October (how is that even possible?) and the next time he plays 73 or more games in an NHL season (he’s been a regular for six) will be his first. Might McQuaid’s former GM in Chiarelli be willing to pay his $2.75M salary for three more years to bring him out to Edmonton? The Oilers need to get heavier, and he would certainly fit the bill for the Oil. If the B’s move Seidenberg and McQuaid, then Miller on the bottom pair for $2.5M isn’t a great cap figure, but it does become a little easier to swallow.

Of course- there’s still the matter of other players that need signed. Torey Krug is a big one, and what kind of new deal will he command after leading the Boston blue liners in scoring last season? Granted, the goals didn’t come for him like in previous years, but with a hit of $3.25M, he’ll get a significant boost on that if the B’s commit to retaining him. And he’s not the only one.

In conclusion, I’ll hold off on my judgment until I see what happens next and ultimately, where we are going into September. The negativity is understandable, but there won’t be a knee-jerk reaction here until the transformation takes place and we see how Sweeney builds the defense. That’s a leap of faith some have a hard time with, but here at the TSP- there’s time enough at last for patience.

 

Springfield Rifle at the Worlds

For the second consecutive year, the Boston Bruins have a player on Team USA at the World Championship tournament.

Played every year in May, until last year, the B’s didn’t have many opportunities to have players represent their countries because they were always playing for Lord Stanley’s chalice. In 2016, it’s Frank Vatrano’s turn to wear the red, white and blue.

Vatrano, who put up a rookie season for the ages with 36 goals in 36 AHL games while splitting time between the farm team and big club in Boston, was named to Team USA this week and gets to represent his nation in hockey again. For those who might not recall, he left Massachusetts in 2010 to spend two years in Ann Arbor, Michigan with the U.S. National team.

Vatrano’s elite release and laser shot were always a strong suit going back to his minor hockey days, but he made major strides in his conditioning this season and impressed coaches with his attitude and energy. But it’s that release, though…oy.

Like Torey Krug a year ago, playing for Team USA at the Worlds will give him an extended opportunity to play hockey at a high level when most everyone else in the organization is in offseason mode and allows Vatrano to come back energized with a legitimate chance to earn a spot on the big Bruins for the entire 2016-17 campaign and get even more minutes on one of the three top lines plus special teams time.

Here’s a look at his NHL goal-scoring work (posted by “Bruins Fan”) to the old Soprano’s theme song:

 

Requiem for the Bruins: the Podcast

Oops- I did it again.

I wrote extensively on the demise of the Boston Bruins yesterday on this space and there was a lot (even after that near 3,000-word opus) I did’t say.

So, here’s the audio companion to that post. I know, I know, I have not yet put these podcasts on iTunes. I’m a bad blogger. But, you can click on the “Podcasts” category to catch up on anything you missed.

Expounded on each of the 4 points about the B’s talent (mainly on defense), Claude Julien, management (to include ownership and thoughts on el Presidente- Cam Neely) and the B’s core, including a bit of a rant on Tuukka Rask. I’m sure that some folks won’t be happy about that, but I just call it like I see it. When Rask has played well, I’ve been sure to single him out to provide balance. But, enough is enough with the extremes.

Finally, I closed out with what needs to come next for the Bruins (in my view).  Talked a little about the defense and who they might go after in the coming weeks, including local (Milton, Mass.) product Keith Yandle, one of the top unrestricted free agents hitting the market on July 1.

1 podcast. 50 minutes. If you get through it all, more power to you, but as always- appreciate the support.

It’s going to be a long offseason, but here’s to change and doing something different.

Requiem for the 2016 Boston Bruins

It’s less than 24 hours after the TD Garden debacle against the Senators, and many of us are still wondering what went wrong. Actually, it’s not that hard to figure it out. 8 months ago, TSP concluded the season preview for the team’s defense with this:

“…the Boston defense is not going to be much of a threat offensively, so they’ll have to take care of things in their own end. Without the requisite speed and ability to contain speed to the outside, that’s going to be a challenge.

It’s a game and gritty group- but there are a lot of if’s heading into the new season. That means the goaltending and the forwards are going to have to pick up the slack.”

As mentioned previously, defensive issues aside, it is still hard to square what happened in the last month, given the optimism that followed the several weeks after the trade deadline. The B’s seemed primed to cruise to a playoff spot with one of the Atlantic Division’s second or third-place seeds, only to suffer a complete and utter collapse that left them hoping for a miracle  in the form of a Philadelphia Flyers flameout, and this after Detroit handed them the path to victory with their regulation loss to an undermanned NY Rangers squad yesterday.

It isn’t that the Bruins missed the playoffs- many of us expected that to happen after they removed Milan Lucic, Reilly Smith and Dougie Hamilton from last year’s lineup and replaced them with Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes up front and Matt Irwin and Colin Miller on the back end.

It’s how it happened.

As of St. Patrick’s Day, the B’s looked all but assured in silencing critics that predicted a major step backwards this season, but over the past 30 days, they crashed to earth and validated the doubts and questions. It isn’t just a matter of blown opportunities this hockey campaign, either- we saw nearly the same thing a year ago, and going back to the 2013 playoffs when they blew a series lead to the Montreal Canadiens. Heck, go back to 2012 and the monumental collapse in 2010 to the Flyers after building a 3-0 lead. One common denominator has consistently reared its ugly head: when playing at home, and needing a big win, the Boston Bruins not only come up empty,  but lose in spectacularly poor fashion. Yesterday was no exception, and if nothing else- that simply has to change.

Boston is a notoriously passionate and tough sports town, so the context is everything when it comes to the Bruins’ second consecutive non-playoffs finish. The cynics are having a field day with this one and rightfully so- Cam Neely and Don Sweeney entered the 2015-16 season with gaping holes that weren’t adequately filled last summer. The vultures will be feasting on the carcass of this fiasco of a season for a good long time. It’s April 10- we’ve got about six months of it coming. If you don’t like being a Boston sports fan in the down times, then you might want to stay off the internet and talk radio, television, avoid the water cooler and anyplace else where the postmortem is sure to be one giant pig-pile.

The thing is- I’m not so sure that the Boston Bruins- from ownership all the way down to the on-ice product and everyone in between- doesn’t deserve the spotlight right now. I mean, how many times do you have to witness the same thing not working before you dispense with the peripheral changes and make sweeping ones?

In order to answer that, we must look at the 2015-16 hockey season and ask ourselves- where did it all go wrong?

1. Talent matters in any sport- hockey is no different

When I was growing up, I wanted to play in the NHL. At 43, I’m writing about it instead and no, I never played the game at any meaningful level. In the end, it all comes down to this in hockey as it is in just about all walks of life: wanting to be a skilled player and actually being talented enough to make the plays consistently to win enough games at the highest level of hockey in the world are two different things. The Bruins have gone out and assembled a roster of gritty, character types that play an effective 200-foot game with the exception of just a couple of skaters.

Unfortunately, they’ve also traded away some of their most talented players for various reasons. Phil Kessel, Tyler Seguin, Hamilton, Lucic, Smith…those are the productive, skilled and tempo-altering players who are no longer on the team. Two of them were acquired for Kessel in 2009, and in 2016 the Bruins have little to show for it. Loui Eriksson will almost assuredly be playing in a new zip code next season unless he has a change of heart and decides to accept Boston’s most recent four-year extension offer.

So while Patrice Bergeron and Beleskey led Boston’s character brigade, and Brad Marchand certainly stepped up his play and leadership with a career-best 37-goal campaign, it simply wasn’t enough.They’re an industrious bunch, but the 2016 B’s had known talent gaps when facing the class of the NHL.

The B’s did not have a talented enough roster- top to bottom- and especially on defense- to close the deal and get into the postseason. I can hammer the defense as a group, but you all saw it unfold throughout the course of the year, so at this point- what purpose does that serve? We knew the defense was the elephant in the room coming in, and yet, Boston’s best hope was that the forwards and goaltending, plus the character and experience on the roster would see the B’s through to the postseason.

Those intangibles weren’t sufficient. The gritty, hard-working types are important, but the top-tier NHL clubs all have them plus the even more critical multiple high-end players on the roster, some at each position. The St. Louis Blues immediately come to mind here.

Ironically- the B’s smashed the Blues in their last outing, which fueled the hope that Boston would hold on and get in. After inconceivable losses to New Jersey and Carolina (two teams looking up at them in the Eastern Conference standings) the B’s teased with a decisive win against Detroit only to crash and burn against the Senators. Those same Senators, by the way, who were also looking up at them in the standings and now get to pick ahead of the B’s, too. As Dennis Miller once said- “Talk about not having a date to the prom…”

When it all comes down to it, the 2015-16 Boston Bruins simply weren’t talented enough to be one of the league’s teams in the NHL’s spring 16, so they’re out. Sometimes, it is as simple as that. On many nights, the better team won, and the better squad wasn’t wearing the spoked B.

2. The coach is accountable but also needs an awfully long stick to score or break up offensive rushes from the bench

I understand and respect the criticisms of Claude Julien as the Bruins bench boss. I just don’t think the problems with Julien’s coaching are as simple as him not playing the ‘yutes (or the infamous- “he didn’t develop them!” canard) from start to finish. Experienced players are more trustworthy than inexperienced ones…that may upset some folks, but it’s a fact of life. There isn’t some vast conspiracy- there’s just so many things that happen behind the scenes that we in the media and fans aren’t privy to.

But there’s no denying it- if the players loved playing for him, they didn’t show it.  When the rubber met the road, the NHL Bruins simply didn’t perform for him with the season on the line.

Julien (barely) passed Art Ross for the top spot on Boston’s career coaching victories list, but the run to 400 wins stalled out badly at the end. And this much is true: you can’t point to the coach’s effectiveness at getting the guys to play hard for him without acknowledging that even with the lack of aforementioned talent, the 2015-16 Bruins (and 2014-15 squad too) didn’t play hard enough when it mattered most.

Julien is a class act and if the B’s opt to fire him over this, then so be it. He’ll get hired about 5 minutes later and continue to be a coach in this league- if not in Ottawa or Montreal, then somewhere. But Boston’s larger issue is- who will they bring in to replace him and will that person have much more to work with than Julien did? We’ll just have to cross that bridge when we get to it.

I won’t lie- I’ve gotten to know Julien a bit in the nine years he’s been with the team, so it is understandable why players like Patrice Bergeron love him so much. But, hockey is a business- a results-oriented one- and Julien’s teams have imploded down the stretch in consecutive years and even before that. If not for a fateful deflection that went wide and a tip that didn’t in Boston’s Game 7 win over Montreal in 2011, or the roaring comeback over the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2013, we likely would have witnessed Julien’s departure long ago.

The critics who say he doesn’t adjust well enough to what other teams do and can stubbornly adhere to what he believes in even when not working have a point. But so do those who say that you can’t give him a set of Crayola crayons and expect him to craft the Mona Lisa. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, and in pro sports, being in the middle won’t get you very far.

Getting the Bruins into the playoffs would have validated his excellence as coach given what he had to work with. But his team didn’t get in, and bad things happen to good people all the time. It won’t be surprising if management pulls the plug and makes a change.

3. Decisions in the past and present limited Sweeney’s options

The life of an NHL GM is often fraught with peril.

When Don Sweeney was named to the post after Peter Chiarelli’s dismissal, he had a Herculean task ahead to create cap flexibility and keep the Bruins on track to get back into contention. He tried to do both and it didn’t work.

He ultimately stuck with Claude Julien, and then made two big draft-day moves- each alternately blasted and praised as myriad analysts dissected each. Hamilton to Calgary for three picks- not one NHL roster player in return- was a shocker and the court of public opinion came down swiftly against the fledgling GM, even if it was later revealed that Hamilton and his representation didn’t exactly give Sweeney much to go on in negotiating a second contract with Boston. Lucic to the Kings was, conversely, almost universally praised for its return- a 1st (Jakub Zboril) a capable, on-the-verge-of-being-a-starter in Martin Jones and an on-the-verge-of-being-an-NHL-defenseman in  Colin Miller.

Sweeney and the Bruins were widely mocked (What is Boston doing?! were the breathless headlines Friday night and Saturday) for drafting Zboril, Jake DeBrusk and Zach Senyshyn after the first round given some other bigger names on the board, and so- given the seasons Kyle Connor, Mathew Barzal, Colin White and even Thomas Chabot had, those knives are going to come out again. Ultimately, the Bruins didn’t do what the pundits said they should have, but in fairness- the aforementioned players made a case that they should have been chosen over at least two if not all three players Boston took ahead of them. We’re still waiting on the jury and might be for quite some time. (Disclaimer- I have no issue with any of the three Boston took when they did. It’s possible that everyone is right in taking who they did where, at least as things stand right now.)

Ultimately, though- last summer was about freeing up cap dollars, so Reilly Smith was sent packing for a reduced cap hit in Jimmy Hayes. Unfortunately for Boston, Hayes not only failed to take the anticipated next step, but his lack of foot speed and physicality, made him the target of fan angst and derision pretty early on. If he wasn’t getting the goals and points, it looked like he was “coasting” and therefore became an easy scapegoat, especially when Smith returned to scoring form in Florida. Hayes doesn’t deserve a lot of the pure disdain he’s gotten, but the results weren’t where they needed to be.

Sweeney committed a blunder in acquiring Zac Rinaldo for a 2017 third-round pick but at least Sweeney recognized it by cutting bait in February rather than riding it out with a spare part for an entire season. In the end, it’s not the pick that hurts (though it is a wasted asset)- it’s the questionable judgment that Rinaldo could have been an impact player in Boston enough to give up a third in the first place. We could see this coming, and how the B’s pro scouts couldn’t or didn’t is what stokes the fires of discontent in April.

Aside from Matt Irwin, Sweeney did little to address his defense and that was the biggest criticism, as once the season began, it was increasingly tougher to make a deal for a capable, stabilizing force with so much parity in the NHL and teams not interested in giving up valuable young and promising blue line talent for what Boston had to offer. John-Michael Liles was too little, too late; Lee Stempniak made an impact, but Sweeney decided to stick with Eriksson to help get the Bruins into the postseason and now that the  team couldn’t even do that, not moving the impending UFA at the deadline will be a major talking point from now until they either surrender his rights for a middling pick or he goes elsewhere on July 1.

If anything- Sweeney’s actions last June proved he’s capable of bold action, but some of Chiarelli’s past mistakes and some poor decisions in the offseason drew up the blueprint that we’re left with today.

4. The B’s core is not hardcore enough

The Bruins have roughly $28 million invested in four players: Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask. Notice who is missing- Brad Marchand. He’s entering his last year of a bargain $4.5M cap hit and the B’s are going to have to open the vault to keep him. If Krejci is making $7.25M for the next five years, what is Marchand worth? David Pastrnak will also be due a new contract entering the 2017-18 season, and depending on how he plays next year, what are his reps going to be asking for? Torey Krug’s future with the Bruins will be decided in the here and now.

But all of this gets back to one central question: how good is Boston’s core? After what we’ve witnessed the past two regular seasons and going back to the 2013 playoffs, not good enough.

Chara is 39 and can no longer carry the defense. He’s been the captain for a decade and has become an easy target in a “what have you done for me lately?” world. Chara needed help this season and simply didn’t get it. It was painful to watch most nights, and I remain convinced that his right knee is a major culprit in the falloff of his play. He’ll never be the player he once was, but in the right role, he can still be effective for the remaining two years of his deal when expected retirement follows. The B’s weren’t able to put him in position to succeed, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t finish out his career in Boston if he so desires- just as long as it isn’t expected that he gave them what he did in his prime.

Bergeron will be 31 in May…he’s the team’s heart, soul and most productive player. But he’s not above criticism either- where was he yesterday? Nobody (least of all TSP) is blaming Bergeron for what happened, but if we want to have an honest discussion about what went wrong in Boston, we can’t completely fence off certain players while pointing the finger at others who are more convenient targets. Bergeron could have led by example and even in a loss, created some signature moments. He, like the rest of his mates, did not, so nobody is off-limits in the discussion of the team’s issues.

Having said that Bergeron isn’t going anywhere, and he’s the absolute least of the team’s worries. But, shouldn’t management be figuring out how to surround St. Patrice and Marchand with better talent? He’s on the wrong side of 30 now- the window is closing. Bergeron is proof that when playing around the margins  and half-measures to address the roster, he’s not powerful enough to carry the team on his shoulders to victory. Even though, for the most part, he’s tried to do just that. He had a remarkable year, but when it all came down to the wire, Bergeron wasn’t able to will his team to a win.

That leads us to Krejci and Rask.

Krejci had a tremendous start and looked like that $7.25M player early on, but as has been the case in recent seasons, he got hit with injuries and as the grind of the season went on, was less and less effective. What good is having the franchise’s highest active scorer in the playoffs if you can’t make it into the dance?

It’s a bad contract, period- the biggest albatross Chiarelli saddled the Bruins with in his final year as GM. He makes more than Bergeron and delivers less. He’s a good player but doesn’t have the elite skill to be a great one. He turns 30 next month, and the B’s are in real danger of being stuck with a center who is capable enough when fully healthy, but isn’t capable of making it through an entire season in peak condition. You can’t put that kind of guy on the third line, so where does that leave the ability to build versatile and productive scoring units across the board?

The simple fact is- the Bruins needed more than they got from Krejci this season and the final game of the regular season was a microcosm of all that is of concern with him in the present and future. Like Bergeron yesterday, he was unable to be a difference-maker, so we witnessed three goals from pluggers like Chris Neil and Zack Smith instead. They alone gave the Sens a 2-1 win even if you throw out Smith’s late-game empty-netter and the tallies by Mika Zibanejad, Matt Puempel and P.G. Pageau to make it a complete embarrassment of a 6-1 final score.

There is no denying that Krejci is a high-end passer and driven guy who truly cares about his team and winning. On paper, Krejci makes complete sense where he resides in the team’s salary structure, but he isn’t doing enough in the real world to validate what he does best. The questions about return on investment will only loom larger and larger if he maintains his current trajectory.

Trading Krejci is no easy fix, either. His contract is even more problematic- he has a full no-move clause until 2019 followed by a no-trade in 2019-20. Assuming Sweeney could find a taker (and make no mistake- the B’s would be getting a low return and likely retaining money in the process), Krejci would have to bless off on it. Not impossible, but not easily done. There are teams out there capable of adding his term and cap hit, but not very many. For the time being, Krejci is worth more to the Bruins than he is to some other team, but if this is the “new normal” for him, then the B’s can’t afford to keep the status quo as is. They’ll have to look elsewhere on the roster for cap relief.

There aren’t seven million reasons for trading a particular player, but it was a major disappointment that Tuukka Rask got sick and wasn’t there when his team needed him. Sure, with the way the Bruins played it probably wouldn’t have mattered if Rask was in net or it was the ghost of Tiny Thompson- Boston wasn’t winning that game. He certainly didn’t mean to get sick and life happens- especially when you have a toddler (read: germ factory) at home, but is this what $7M buys you these days? The do-or-die game of the season after other mediocre showings sprinkled throughout the year in the worst statistical performance of his career, and Rask wasn’t even there to attempt to be the difference maker. He still has his hardcore believers, but that number is shrinking.

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.

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.

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.

The core needs a makeover. Whether it’s Rask or someone else, we’ll have to see what comes next. But we’ve seen that that playing along the margins (trading Ryan Spooner for example) or half measures won’t cut it. The core isn’t the identity of the Boston Bruins anymore- they were at one time, but in the 2016 season’s final moments, not one of them was able (or even available) to make a difference. That’s a fact that wasn’t lost on management.

So- there it is.

I intended this to be a shorter post, but you got a book instead. I will follow up with a podcast and spend more time on that medium identifying what steps the B’s might take to right the ship.

I will say this- no single offseason is going to get it done. While the farm has some nice players, there aren’t a lot of the high-end types who are not only projected to be eventual stars NHL but who are ready to make the jump to the big time starting in 2016-17. That doesn’t mean that more won’t emerge in the coming months and years the way Frank Vatrano did this year and David Pastrnak the season before, but it’s not going to be a simple matter of plugging in prospects and young players and expecting better results than the ones we got this time around.

It’s going to be a rocky offseason, with every move and non-move sure to be dissected and flayed with relish on both sides. But this is why we love and follow the game.

I want to thank everyone who has read the blog since it began last July. The first NHL regular season is now in the books and while the disappointment won’t subside for a while, I am grateful for the candor, the feedback and the support.

Attending the World Under-18 Championship next week will allow me to turn the focus of the blog to what comes next and begin preparing for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.

I hope you’ll keep reading…

– Kirk Luedeke

“The End”- the Doors from Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now 

 

 

Bruins come up large against Red Wings but…

…did it really have to come down to one last game against the Ottawa Senators and even in the event of a win, a fate that still rests in hands of Detroit and Philadelphia?

Apparently so.

On the plus side, the Bruins came out firing Thursday night and David Pastrnak’s goal less than three minutes in withstood Jeff Blashill’s coach’s challenge to give the home team a 1-0 lead that they never relinquished.

On the Wings bench, Blashill watched his former junior player with the Indiana Ice deal his club a setback in the quest to clinch 25 straight seasons in the playoffs, a mark that is still four years behind the Boston Bruins, who established a run of 29 years in the postseason before bottoming out in 1997. Torey Krug scored his fourth goal of the season and first since December 5 (55 games) with a power drive with the man advantage that beat starter Jimmy Howard to the blocker side and stood up as the winning tally. Krug’s two assists gave him three points and the game’s 1st star, adding to his career-best offensive output (his goal totals are way down, but his assists are 13 more than his previous high of 27). I’ve seen all I need to from Krug…he’s a winner and much more important part of this Bruins team than some give him credit for. I can assure you that if he was 6-1 or 6-2, he wouldn’t get anywhere near the grief or negative scrutiny he does from some people, but that’s life. He’s heard it all before, and ultimately, he’ll continue to grow as a player or person. Those who don’t think he’s worth the $5M or more it’s going to take to re-sign Krug- here are two words: Tough. Cookies. It’s going to happen and when it does, it will be money well spent. More on that later in a future podcast, but I don’t expect to win the critics over. Some folks are simply never going to come around on Krug, and that’s fine. Complete consensus is always difficult, and I’ll do my level best to present the case and then move on.

But first, back to the home win…

While it was a statement victory for the Bruins, who also got goals from Brad Marchand (37), Loui Eriksson (30) and Lee Stempniak (his third in 18 games with Boston since the trade deadline, 19th overall), real good goaltending from Tuukka Rask (31 wins) in making saves at critical moments of the contest to keep the Wings from ever mounting a serious push, it does make you wonder where this team has been for the past thee weeks.

The fourth line of Frank Vatrano-Noel Acciari-Landon Ferraro– aka “La Cosa Goalstra” and I’ve also seen them referred to as the Little Italy line (not sure who came up with that one) which is also genius because all three are at or under 6-foot in height, provided some impressive energy and ruggedness all night. They’re not making the kind of offensive demonstration that made the Merlot line the best fourth unit in the NHL during the 2011-13 hey day of two Stanley Cup appearances in three years, but the current Boston fourth line is grinding it out and making plays. Their ability to possess the puck and generate scoring chances while to go with solid physical play and defensive awareness means that they aren’t a liability. The production hasn’t happened yet, but the Bruins could do far worse.

Now, Boston gets to face the Ottawa Senators at home in the season finale. Optimistic fans would do well not to look past their division rival to focus on the other scenarios involving Detroit and Philly before the Bruins take care of business first. The pessimists and cynics of course- will say it doesn’t matter even if the Bruins get in because they are toast in the playoffs. Even if true, no organization should ever subscribe to losing on purpose and just the experience of playoff games for those who have yet to taste that, is of some benefit.

In any case, here are some various scenarios upon which Boston’s playoff lives depend (compliments of FOB (friend of blog) Dominic Tiano (thanks Dom!):

Scenarios

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once more, we’re reminded of so many opportunities the Bruins had previously to take the drama out of it by simply taking care of business when they were in position to do so.

It’s a team effort and no one factor, player, coach or manager is responsible for the Bruins potentially being where they were a season ago with little to show for all that has occurred since the 2015 campaign ended.

What is certain is that the Bruins must win their final game to give them the best shot at getting back to the postseason in Don Sweeney’s first year as GM. Even then, two other teams get a vote. If they lose to the Sens, then let’s face it- they can still get in, but they probably don’t deserve it.

Buckle up!

Random observations:

Loui Eriksson tallied his 30th goal of the year last night for just the second time in his NHL career (he scored a season high 36 in 2008-09 with the Dallas Stars). With it, the Boston Bruins have three 30-goal guys in Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Eriksson for the first time since 2002-03 when Glen Murray (44), Joe Thornton (36) and Mike Knuble (30) did the deed. (My soon-to-be in high school daughter turned 1 the year they did for some perspective)

A year later, Knuble-Thornton-Murray were christened the “700-lb line” by none other than then-Montreal head coach Claude Julien in the 2004 playoffs. In case you forgot, the B’s blew a 3-1 series lead to lose to Julien’s Habs in 7 at the Garden.

Torey Krug’s 44 points leads all Boston Bruins defensemen and his 40 assists are second only to David Krejci– he has four more helpers than Patrice Bergeron. Throw out the aberration of a low (1.5 percent) shooting percentage, and he’s about as productive as they come from the blue line.

Tuukka Rask’s .915 save percentage is the lowest of his career to date. The last time he was under .920 was in 2010-11, when he posted a .918 after playing in just 29 games as Tim Thomas’ backup. That’s a reflection of both the fall-off in talent of this Boston Bruins team, but there are other factors in play. When it comes down to it- Rask has been hot and cold all year, as one Twitter follower sent me this stat today: Rask is 5th in the NHL for most games: 19 with a save % of .950, but also 4th with 10 games of a sv% of .850 or less. Sure- there’s a lot to be said for the quality of the defense and team in front of him, but he has some accountability in this, too. There were nights when he could have and should have played better. The Bruins can and should get more from their 7-million dollar man in net.

Class move by Greg “Puck Daddy” Wyshynski to tweet out his gratitude to Dom Tiano for breaking down all of the possible playoff scenarios. Give Dom a follow if you don’t already and if you do, then you know how passionate about hockey and the Bruins he is. He’s also one of the smartest people out there on the nuts and bolts of the CBA and how things work behind the scenes. This is tedious work for those of us who have to research the myriad documents and complex language of the NHL’s by-laws and regulations, but having Dom as a friend and resource has helped me and countless others to get the reporting right. Take a bow.