Two teams I can name had difficulty scoring last year, and yet each had one enigmatic player in the fold who had the pedigree to be a or even the go to guy on their squad. One organization admitted no rift between itself and their wayward lamb while exiling them to the outskirts of Siberia, the other gave their will-o-wisp forward adequate ice time and a rotating cast of opposite wingers, and three or four different centers.

Neither team got what they wanted. I speak of course of Nikita Filatov, at least nominally of the Columbus Blue Jackets even though he spent most of the year in the KHL on loan to a team that was supposed to let him grow as a player with plenty of ice time. CSKA Moscow of the NHL finished their season without straining their endurance with a playoff run, much as the Blue Jackets did

Michael Ryder who had the odd off ice distraction to deal with also had to work with a center who some feel returned from off season hip surgery too soon, and a linemate who experienced what can be gently called a sophomore slump. He spent time trying to find chemistry with Marc Savard, which failed miserably, again. Watching the two of them together and expecting something positive to happen was like waiting for a bowling bowl to dissolve in a tub of baby shampoo. His time with the teams other centers was only slightly better. This was his second worst NHL season, and the second to last of his contract.

From watching the two players I’m convinced they are in the wrong type cities. I have seen nothing to indicate Ryder can stomach the attention of playing in a big hockey market. Remember Boston is a city that six years after he played his last game in Bruins uniform can still be seem sporting PJ Stock t-shirts and jerseys to games.  For all the heart and hard work Stock had, he scored exactly one goal in a Bruins uniform.

Filatov who is younger, a bit more outgoing and uptempo was born in the hot bed of Russia’s social and political nexus. Moscow is much more like a top tier North American hockey market in it’s size, sprawl, and concentration of humanity and scrutiny than Ryder’s more pastoral Bonavista New Foundland.  By comparison, Moscow is estimated to be over ten million people, making it about a third the population of all of Canada, much less the less than four thousand people currently living in Bonavista.

So the trade is simple. Filatov is an RFA with two seasons left on his entry level contract who was drafted sixth and had nearly a point per game for CSKA. Ryder will be a UFA on July 1, 2011, is making $4million a year, and has four times scored twenty five or more NHL goals in a season.

To Boston:

Filatov

3rd round pick 2011

To Columbus

Ryder

2nd round pick 2011

Since there just aren’t enough possible angles to cover free agency from, I decided we all need one more, well maybe it’s three more. So here goes.

Bloggers who wish to participate should comment here, or send me a message @pucksage on Twitter to be linked to and for bragging purposes. All entries must be up by the Noon ET on June 30, 2010. Bloggers can participate in any or all parts of the challenge. For the sake of everyone using the same source, we will use NHLNumbers ( www.nhlnumbers.com ) for the free agent listing and TSN.ca or NHL.com for any signings that don’t make the NHLnumbers site by deadline. You can of course make more than one post to cover each part.

Part 1: The First Domino

Pick a player at Forward, Defense & Goal off the UFA list who you expect to be the first to be signed.

Part 2: Team UFA

Very simple, really. Make a team 13 forwards, 7 defensemen, 2 goalies that is all off the UFA list and under the cap. Projected salaries for each player should be realistic.

Part 3: Worst Contract

Name the team likely to hand out the most absurd contract on July 1.

Part 4: Where’s Ilya

That right, you too can gaze into your crystal ball, ask your magic 8 ball or ouijia board or just sprinkle some Angel Dust on your Poptart and use it to tell the world where Ilya Kovalchuk will be playing next season.

Remember, prizes are bragging rights, pity beer from your friends, and not having to think of something to blog for at least one day. Void where prohibited!

The Bruins might be forced to sacrifice one of their top three centers to either reel in a top scoring winger, free up cap space, or possibly a puck moving defenseman.

Marc Savard has led the Bruins in offense three of the four seasons he’s been on the team. In his time here he’s developed his defensive game to a point where he’s consistently killing penalties. He’ll be 33 at the start of the next season, and just signed a long term contract. He’s not known for being a gym rat, and had a concussion this season that he appeared to recover from fully.

Patrice Bergeron is larger and more physical than either Krejci or Savard. As one of the members of Canada’s Olympic team, it’s probably safe to call him one of the thirty to fifty best players in the world.  Neither Savard or Krejci has ever scored 30 goals in a season. He’s hands down Boston’s best faceoff man, and is probably peaking now as a player and will stay at that level another 2-4 years depending on health.

David Krejci when healthy and on his “A game” is a dynamic play maker with world class vision of the ice. His faceoff prowess is nothing to write home about, but not going to cost him playing time. He’s been effective on both sides of the puck, and can be counted on to play if he can be made to stand and still hold onto his stick. He’s the youngest of the Bruins top 3 centers and will probably peak in a year or two. He was hit with a nasty wrist injury that ended his season early, but should be back for training camp and the Bruins European Vacation this fall.

The other centers in the system lack the experience or pedigree to be highly valuable, but may find themselves part of a trade package.  Not to be forgotten among the guys who were drafted at center is Blake Wheeler. We’ve seen him played exclusively on the wing here, Wheeler has the size, reach, speed and defensive prowess to make some people  ponder him at pivot.

Much has been made of the probability of the Bruins drafting Seguin and the need to then trade a center. First as Bergeron, Krejci, and Sequin have all played wing and will probably do so again this is not a given. Chiarelli has expressed his confidence that both Sequin and Hall can play all three forward positions so if the Oilers take Sequin and Boston fans are left to deal with those sloppy seconds, it doesn’t mean we will see Hall playing at the position he is best know for. Add in the fact that despite his paltry offensive numbers Vladimir Sobotka has a lot of fans in the Boston area and that he’s better at center than wing and you’re at four pivots  without even considering prospects or UFA’s.

Among those prospects are 2008 first round pick Zach Hamill who saw his first NHL action this season. Many expected him to make more appearances this year, especially after he helped lead rookie camp and was one of the final cuts during regular training camp.  Like Krejci, he’s a smaller player who’s more a skilled player than a grinder. He appears to have half a step or more of speed on Krejci. In his sole NHL appearance, he put in a more than creditable 12:08 of TOI with 1:36 of powerplay time. Both Bergeron and Savard were out of this game, and he finished with an assist and +1 against the high powered Washington Capitals.

Maxime Suave is another of the youngsters listed at center who has played at other positions which will probably help him into the NHL sooner.  I wanted him here after watching him in training camp and the preseason. He’s got speed, a willingness to shoot that on the whole is lacking on the Bruins, and just a touch of on ice swagger. The word that described him best at camp was raw. I can see him being the 13th forward to start the season if he’s doesn’t carve himself a top 9 spot in camp.  Like his draft year-mate Colbourne, Suave was signed to a pro contract late this season and played a handful of games for Providence.

Joe Colbourne is billed as “the second coming of Thornton” by some loudmouths. I hope that’s true, in fact if he turns out to have 2/3’s of the talent and skill of Joe Thornton I doubt he’ll ever be scrambling to find NHL work for as long as he’s healthy enough to play.  One of the things that the Bruins have been trying to do since Chiarelli took the reigns in Boston was get bigger at forward. at 6’5 he won’t be quite the largest player on the team, but he’s a whole lot taller, than Savard, Krejci, Recchi, Sobotka and either of the other prospects. Unfortunately at this point he’s still raw boned. He’s listed at five inches taller than Bergeron and four pounds less.  Like Wheeler he’ll need to fill out some before the size is good for anything but reach. Taken in the first round in 2008, he’s well regarded in a draft that looks like it’s going to take a while to creep into the NHL. Just about half of the first round, none of the second and just a handful of others have played in even one NHL game.

First let me say that in the Rask vs Thomas war, I’m a Bruins fan first, a fan of great hockey, and then a fan of one of the goalies. That said, if Thomas doesn’t start the next game Julien should be looking for a new job in a month. Before we get into stats, just rewind the game in your head and look at Rask’s positioning, posture and form. Tonight, Rask looked like he was trying to play Thomas’s style. This is unfortunately a style he is not a good match for. One of the things I noticed early was that he was playing very deep in the net for most of the first two periods. Second, he left his feet and was lying belly down on the ice more than once. He is not fit to do that and spring back onto his feet. It’s not his style, therefore the muscle groups are not trained and strengthened towards doing that. Next, between plays instead of his normal skating-saunter around the crease and occasionally to the corner with his water bottle, he was hunched over hands on knees and head down. When he did go down, in particular on the goal where Wideman’s stick broke leading to a rush he did not square his shoulders and game up several additional inches on either side of his frame by failing to do so. He also made a rather uncharacteristic and ineffectual attempt at a poke check. This is not a part of his normal tool kit, and like handling the puck outside the crease it is not a strength of his game. The posture, the break down in form and the uncharacteristic play speak quiet strongly, what they say is that Philly has gotten into his head and now have him off his game. The Flyers unlike a lot of teams are happy to crash the crease and be physical with their opponents goaltender. Some goaltenders will meet this with aggression of their own thus allowing them to reclaim some of their space, others retreat. When Thomas gave up the goal to the Flyers during the Winter Classic, it was because he refused to let them stomp about in his crease with impunity. When Rask is crashed and poked he waits for a whistle and skates to a corner. Thomas played the Flyers twice this season, and faced a total of 63 shots, on which he game up three goals. In the last two games Rask has faced 56 shots and given up nine goals. This is a team that has his number, as some teams can simply dominate a particular goalie. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, its simply what happens when talent, observation and opportunity align. It should be recognized by the coaches and looked at like any other decision, just as baseball teams will opt to load up on right or left handed batters or go to the bullpen for someone with a good breaking ball over an equally good slider. The worrisome thing about Rask in goal is that even at his young age, he has set a trend for himself in post season vs. regular season performances. In his three professional seasons, two in the AHL, one in the NHL his post season numbers are significantly worse than his regular season numbers. Some might say his numbers were so good this year that he couldn’t help but be slightly worse in the playoffs. That’s debatable, Thomas finished last years season with the best GAA and SV% in the NHL, after 11 games both of those numbers improved. Rask has now played 11 games this post season, against two teams whose combined regular season goal total is lower than the two teams Thomas faced last year. Carolina and Montreal combined for 478 regular season goals in 08-09, Buffalo and Philedelphia combined for 458 goals in the 82 game season. In fact Thomas’s last three regular season numbers are all marginally worse than his post season numbers. To put it in the simplest terms, the Bruins had the wrong goalie in net today, and its not surprising the Flyers have managed to get their nose back into this series.

This morning the Boston Bruins have the chance to do what no other team this round has. They also have the chance to do what no Bruins squad has done since before most of this team were allowed to cross the street by themselves. They have the opportunity to sweep a hungry and competitive team that has shown it can beat excellent goaltending and contain top flight offensive powers. They have the opportunity to place themselves on the mantle next to Bourque, Neely, Oates, Moog and become the heroes this generation of hockey fans embrace, venerate and talk about to their children and grandchildren.

This years Bruins also have the opportunity to forever quiet the mutters of their detractors. Marc Savard can prove a team really can win in the post season with him as their best offensive center. By resuming the quality penalty killing he’s become accustomed to playing he can make laughingstocks of all the those who have ignored his last three seasons and continue to say “all he does is get points”. When he makes another key defensive play all the talking heads who say he’s lost in his own end will have to change their tune.

Andrei Kostitsyn, Hugh Jessiman, Dustin Brown, Robert Nilsson, Ryan Kesler, Mike Richards, Cory Urquhart, Ryan Stone, Loui Eriksson, what do these guys have to do with the Bruins? All of these forwards were taken ahead of Bergeron and have failed to justify it. You can argue that Richards is better, his points per game percentage is 1% better, but he’s had more scoring threats to work with. And that 1% is telling when you take in Bergerons season lost to a grave concussion and then his return season was less than spectacular as well. Despite the injuries Bergeron has played more games, dominates at the faceoffs dot, and is in peak physical condition all year. Yet when people talk about players other than Fluery, Phaneuf and Staal of that draft class Bergeron’s name is suspiciously absent.

Mark Stuart was one of the defensemen taken ahead of Bergeron. Close observers of the team and player understand why. Others question why anyone would use a first round pick on him. Simply put he is this generations Scott Stevens, he’s a well positioned, rock steady, defense first, shot blocking, and hit making machine. In twenty years people will call the devastating hits delivered cleanly in open ice by young stud defensemen “Mark Stuart hits”. Ryan Suter and Brent Seabrook were drafted ahead of him and have lived up to it. Brent Burns shows glimmers of first round skill, Phaneuf looked like a steal early on and has regressed heavily, Coburn is hard to quantify in the “defense is an option” Southeast division but clearly hasn’t justified his high selection. So tonight, and the rest of the playoffs Stuart can prove he should be spoken of as the pillar of the team he is, and why many questioned the selection of Komisarek over Stuart to the US Olympic squad.

Tonight, history should be and hopefully will be made.

With the loss of David Krejci to injury, the Bruins leadership is faced with the tough decision of who to fill a roster slot with. It almost certainly won’t be someone playing at center when they are added to the lineup as Bergeron and Savard are obviously one and two, with Sobotka and Begin filling three and four.  Here’s a look at some of the guys you might see at forward if Krejci can’t play. They also don’t need to replace Krejci’s size as he’s generously listed at 177lbs.

Mikko Lethonen,  he topped the Providence Bruins in goals and points with 23-27-50 lines. The downside for this right winger is that he’s only seen two NHL games. One was a Bruins / Hab’s tilt, but that’s the closest he’s ever come to an NHL playoff intensity game.  On the plus side in addition to a scoring touch he’s got good size at six three and just a touch under two hundred pounds.

Brad Marchand is the speedy little pest we all like, but who hasn’t done much with his twenty games in the NHL this season. He may not be entirely to blame as injuries and a team wide funk left the Bruins heavily lacking in offense and synergy. He had just 1 assist and was a -3 in his time in Boston’s lineup. In Providence he had a very respectable 13-19-32 line with a +14 in 34 games.

Zach Hamill was the Bruins first selection in the 2007 draft and the 8th pick overall. Injuries have plagued the young center since and hampered his development. When he was called up for the first and only time since he was drafted this year he performed admirably, playing a solid 12:08 and earning himself an assist.  He’s another of the small skilled forwards the Bruins have drafted in the past few years. He had a very solid preseason, was asked to help lead the rookie camp and was one of the last players assigned to the AHL when the season opened.

Jeff Lovecchio, after missing all of last season with a very severe concussion he came back and put up modest numbers in Providence but still finished 3rd on the team with 15 goals. He’s a about the same size as Lethonen, but is a left winger.

Trent Whitfield. Whitfield was called up several times as injuries took their toll on the Bruins roster. How likely he is to go in depends entirely on which Whitfield shows up in practice. Several of the games he played for the Bruins made you think he really does belong in the NHL, others were not so fun to watch.  At his NHL best he’s a hard working grinder. Despite all the time he spend with Boston, he was still third in scoring in just 52 games in Providence.

Maxim Suave. I really expected Suave to make the team out of camp. I suspect no trade clauses  had a bit to do with why he didn’t.  He’s fast, agile and like Krejci he’s a left hand shot. He played most of the year in the QMJHL and was added to Providences roster after his season concluded.  With only six AHL games on his resume, it’s hard to see how he’ll get slotted in ahead of others.

The Garden, the crowd outside and all the watering holes are jumping.

The fans are 80%+ in Bruins gear.

For those of you visiting Boston from benighted parts like Philly or various civilized locales, there is excellent beer, bhooze and nosh all over the place around the Garden, including a slightly over priced bar in the North Station lobby. I like Beer Works for my pregame meal and Curly’s Irish Stout and then Sullivans Tap for real bhooze.

The game has been high tempo. The Bruins are not in the mood to take anything laying down. I do think Julien is pulling line combinations out of a hat.

Mcquaid and Ference seem a much more solid so far than last game. Wideman appears to have arrived in midseason form, much to the dismay of the Bruins faithful.

1-1 after 20. Boychuck and Richards with th goals.

The playoffs are said to be the time that separates the good from the great, more often it’s the time that divides the whole from the healing.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have gotten back the services of Tyler Kennedy and Jordan Leopold, but lost their top penalty killer, and second best faceoff man this post season in Jordan Staal. For a team that isn’t noted for its defensive prowess, this is a huge blow. Given that Staal has accumulated 15 playoff goals in his young career, his loss also robs the Penguins of some of their offensive finish.

The San Jose Sharks have a lamed Heatley in the lineup but his effectiveness is somewhat limited. Former captain Patrick Marleau is listed as probable,  with flu-like symptoms. And both Wallin and Staubitz are listed with the dreaded “lower body injury”, although neither one are men who anyone expects to have any significant impact on the series.

The Canucks have four men injured. The only significant one is Willie Mitchell who as 3rd in TOIG during the regular season, not only do his lost shifts cost the Canucks his quality, they open the door for modestly talented players to fill in on the blueline and take plenty of stupid penalties, not that there’s anyone who has done that right? Ryan Johnson’s faceoff dominance will be missed, as will his willingness to block shots.

The Boston Bruins who got Marc Savard back in dramatic fashion for game one, have a parade of other “S” guys going through the trainers hands. Sobotka missed some shifts with an upper body injury during the first tilt with the Flyers, but is expected to play in game two. Mark Stuart who is dealing with his third stint on the injured list this season brings size, agility and aggression to the Bruins blueline and may make it back on the ice for late games in the series should it stretch that long is sorely missed for his experience. Boychuck, Hunwick and Mcquaid combine to have played one more NHL playoff game than Mark Stuart and more than forty less regular season games. Adding to the lack of experience in the defensive unit is the loss of Seidenberg who was listed as being out six to eight weeks after having forearm tendons sliced by a skate. Marco Sturm rounds out the injuries, he was only the leading goal scorer in the regular season this year and in the 07-08 season.  Sturm tore his knee to ribbons in his first shift against the Flyers.

Montreal

Markov is out, again, for the Hab’s with an injured knee having missed 35 regular season games due to an ankle injury. Despite the injures he still put up 34 points during the regular season and is a big part of the teams power play.  Former divisional rival Jaroslav Spacek is out with an “illness”, and Mara has been out of the lineup for months. They also experienced a scare with Marc-Andre Bergeron during Sunday’s game when the Penguins Adams rammed him into the boards from behind.

Chicago

The Blackhawks have health in plenty, the only injury is Johnsson who has been out with a concussion since March.

Detroit

Like the team that beat them for the division title for the first time in years, the Wings are reasonably healthy. Eaves will miss game two of the semi-final series with the Sharks, and Maltby has been off the ice since February and isn’t expected back before fall.

Philly

Having had injuries reduce their depth in goal to something not far from a summer league roller hockey teams, they lost a large chunk of their offensive punch with Carter and Gagne going down in the second to last game of the first round, the team gutted out the rest of the series and found four goals in game 1 against the Bruins but gave up five. The team will have to rely even more on Richards & Pronger to work their respective magics to keep them running in games against the Bruins. Boucher will have to stand on his head and play to the level that was expected when he was drafted as well.