This afternoon I had a discussion with a hockey fan who believes the Boston Bruins are tanking. Not just for this year, but for next year as well. I’m not saying I believe this idea, but with all the evidence it is certainly possible.

The Evidence:

  1. No one in the NHL, CHL, USHL, SPHL, AHL or anywhere else in first world hockey thinks that Bruce Cassidy is a better coach than Claude Julien.
  2. The resigning of John-Michael Liles and allowing him to play so much.
  3. The signing of David Backes who five years ago would have been the perfect pickup, but who now is only questionable without being outright wrong.
  4. Absolutely no upgrades at defense which many thought was their biggest need coming into the season.
  5. No additional scoring forwards
  6. Riley Nash was “added” to a team trying to get into the playoffs, when he couldn’t even stay in the NHL in an organization that wanted to be seen on the same page of the standings as the playoff teams.
  7. Allowing Jack Adams winning, Stanley Cup winning, World Cup winning Claude Julien, who knows any of the home grown players, and most of the rest of the roster better than anyone else in the league from having coached them for so long, go to the other half of the greatest rivalry in North American sports.
  8. Sliding a rookie defensemen onto the ice with Zdeno Chara to play against the best players on the other team.
  9. Failure to bury Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes in the minors or otherwise remove them from the roster to allow more talented forwards to fill the roster.
  10. Signing Anton Khudobin, who when healthy is a solid netminder to a two year deal, and who also hasn’t been healthy more than two months since the end of his first tenure in Boston.
  11. The entire fourth line. Seriously, Tim Schaller? Did marketing pick him because ratings were down in NH? Dominic Moore is, possibly, an accidental exception given that he’s having an above average goal scoring season. Or maybe he’s just in Boston because he’s a Harvard guy? Colton Hargrove, Noel Acciari, Austin Czarnik, and others could have done the job as well, and with more cap space left over to address very real needs in the theoretical top nine
  12. The fact that nobody is talking about this years draft, but that name for next year are coming up.

So here’s how this theoretical Rick-Rolling works: The Bruins were bafflingly in a playoff spot 50 plus games into the season, and that needs to change. Not just so the team has better draft position this year, but so there are lower expectations for next year when among other things the no movement clause on Rask’s contract becomes an NTC. Remember, this is Rask’s fourth straight year of sv% decline, and according to Hockey-Reference.com is a below average goalie already according to GSAA.

Also, for this theory to work you probably have to believe what 29 (going on 30) other NHL teams have thought of Bruce Cassidy for more than a decade; That he’s not a good NHL coach, assuming he’s one at all. He has never won at any level, when he was given the bums rush from Washington he belly flopped into the OHL. In his last 10 seasons as a head coach in the AHL, OHL, and NHL he as won just three rounds of playoff hockey. For comparison Ted Nolan who is not employed as an NHL coach right now won championships in both the OHL and QMJHL, and won a Jack Adams award for best NHL coach. That’s a stark comparison, and one would think if you’re trying to win, you take (or keep) a guy who has won, and who given the trends in the NHL, has done so with young players versus not at all.

So given that the Bruins are lacking top draft picks this season. What happens if they trade out of this years draft? What happens if they trade this years pieces for picks in the seemingly stronger 2018 draft class? They get high picks, and underdog status in the following season. Boston, all of New England loves an underdog. And in sports nothing, not even winning is sexier than hope. We know Sweeney loves draft picks. We saw him take three first round picks in a row in the low teens instead of trading even one of them to improve the team now. That’s unprecedented in the modern era. Think of trading one or more of those picks and bringing in Trouba or Dumba, but no, not the Sweeney way.

If you truly believe the Boston Bruins front office covets young men like Rasmus Dahlin or David Levin, or Joe Veleno and they might make people forget a couple bad seasons if they laced up and lit up in Black and Gold, I think it’s safe to say this idea might not be pure vapor. When you remember that there are articles and posts from people in the know pegging players at the top of the 2018 draft going back to more than 18 months before the draft, and look at other drafts where that happened like say in the 2009 draft one begins to wonder why the fan I spoke to had Rick Astley on the brain.

Today on the Two Man ForeCheck we talked a whole bunch about goalies. We didn’t get to the two in tonight’s game very much, but I’m going to continue a look at two stats the folks at Hockey-Reference.com use: Quality Starts, and RBS (Really Bad Starts), and what they look like in terms of goalies performance as a whole. Tonight’s most likely matchup is Martin Jones versus Tukka Rask. For a very brief period the two were teammates before Jones was passed on to the Bay area for the pick that became U.  of Wisconsin’s 2nd leading scorer Trent Frederic and Sean Kuraly.

Rask has a career low sv% at .912 in 46 starts coming into tonight.

 

 

Jones has 49 games played, a sv% of .913

 

What do the numbers mean? Other than the two being fairly similar goalies this year? If you take a look at the quality start number, which Hockey-Reference.com defines as starts with a save percentage above league average as indicative of the goalie that is giving their team the best changes to win, Jones is the clear leader in that category. The inverse of that is the RBS or Really Bad Start, that being games with a sv% under .850, then you have a strong indication as to who is a more consistent goaltender this year as well. About the only argument you can make for Rask being the better goaltender of the two is that he is playing in a tougher conference this year. But even that is a very, very fuzzy bit of conjecture when you consider that he is playing on a team that allows many fewer shot per game than the Sharks.

 

For Bruins fans, don’t give up hope they have been better on the road this year than at home, and are still within the honeymoon period with their new coach.

Gustav Nyquist of the Detroit Red Wings was suspended six games for this hit.

Here’s how he defended himself from his actual transcript:

10: “Dennis Wideman said getting suspended was a great way to spend time with family without the distractions of work.”

9:  “I was having flashbacks about all the rats in The Joe and well, Spurgeon’s about the right size.”

8: “He whispered ‘You’re by Bieber and I’m Chris Pronger’ when he mashed me into the glass.”

7: “Chris Simon bet me his investment with Bernie Madoff I couldn’t beat his biggest suspension.”

6: “I was kinda hoping if I got suspended for something stupid enough no one would notice how bad my numbers are this year.”

5: “Have you heard Zetterberg’s ‘When I was your age!’ stories? You’d do anything for some time away from them too.”

4: “Guys, come on, he said Koivu was better than Datsyuk!”

3: “Coach said if take the heat off of how bad we are for a couple day I can pick my linemates for the first ten games next year. Assuming he’s here that is. ”

2: “Spurgeon said he was taller than me and I was just trying to knock some sense into him.”

1.4: “I was actually hoping for a longer suspension so i didn’t have to be on the ice when the Wings were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.”

1: “I’m not sure why you’re suspending me, Abdelkator does stuff like that four times a month without a call from you guys.”

I’ll open the dance by stating the obvious; unless Krejci or Bergeron is being moved out, Duchene is entirely the wrong guy for the Boston Bruins. Not for anything that he is, but for what he isn’t; and that’s better (when healthy) than Krejci or Bergeron. He probably will put up more points on a playoff quality team, but he’s not the topic of discussion.

I like Gabriel Landeskog. He’s a very solid player. He’s physical, he’s willing, he plays in all three zones at at least a passable level. He’s been pretty healthy over the course of his NHL. He’s put together three straight seasons with more than 20 goals. He’s even the captain, named so at a ludicrously young age.

Why is he probably not the best available winger? That’s easy, I can name one who has very similar physical attributes, is faster, meaner, and has something to prove.

Here’s the tale of the tape:

Career goals per game: Landeskog: 0.278 vs Winger X: 0.312

Hits per game (2011-present): Landeskog: 2.2 Winger X: 2.6

Goals by strength: Landeskog: 80 ES, 27PP 4SH 16 1stG 4OTG 16GWG Winger X: 94ES 16PPG 4SHG 22 1stG 3 OTG 19 GWG

Shot attempt %: Landeskog 49.71% vs Winger X 50.64%

Goals per 60: Landeskog 0.89 Winger X 1.05

Minor penalties drawn per 60: Landeskog 0.94 vs Winger X 1.21

SHTOI/G: Landeskog and Winger X 1:04

TOI/GP: Landeskog 18:47 vs Winger X 19:31

Cap hit next year: Winger X is $321,429 less expensive.

Why did I pick the stats I did? Partly because the biggest need from a winger would be goals, followed by physicality. And because any player that is going to survive in Boston will need to be able to contribute in all three zones.  In some people’s minds Winger X has a few marks against him. On his first team, in a city not very friendly to the melanin blessed, he had a reputation for trouble making which may have spilled over to his current team. On balance, none of the accusations in either city have ever been proved in court. And of course of the two, Winger X is the one who put together a 30 goal season at all, much less while under 21.

Evander Kane

I finally return to my favorite feature column.

If I told you in September that

Teams:

  • on 2/12 there would be three teams in playoff spots, including the Canadiens, Senators, and Leafs with the Calgary Flames knocking on the door
  • the best penalty kill in the NHL would belong to the Carolina Hurricanes.
  • the Montreal Canadiens would be 2nd in times shorthanded, with 197 times through 57 games
  • the Dallas Stars would not only have a worse powerplay than the Boston Bruins but be in the bottom third of the league
  • the Columbus Blue Jackets would be the only team in February with zero shorthanded goals allowed.
  • three of the top five NHL teams in five on five goals for would be outside the the playoffs
  • nearly one quarter of the teams holding a playoff spot including the Saint Louis Blues, Boston Bruins, Ottawa Senators would have an even or negative goal differential.

Players

  • Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators would be tied for second in blocked shots per game.
  • Brayden Schenn would lead the NHL in powerplay goals
  • that Sidney Crosby would tied for 86th in powerplay assists
  • Jeff Carter would lead his team and the NHL in game winning goals, including one third of the tallies for the Kings
  • three of the top five rookies in the NHL in scoring would all play on one team: Mitchell Marner, Auston Matthews, and William Nylander
  • Peter Budaj would have his best career save percentage, the Kings in a playoff position, 26 wins, and the lead in shutouts.
  • two goalies would hold 30 win seasons, Devan Dubnyk and Sergei Bobrovsky, in less than 45 games played and also both be in the top 5 in total saves.

 

If I told you any of this in September would you have believed me?

Look for the next episode of Two Man Forecheck soon!

We’ll talk: Mike Illitch and his legacy, Claude Julien, expansion, the New York Islanders and more. Give my co-host @TheOffWing a follow and catch up on what he’s writing at TheOffWing.com .

Earlier today Matt Kalman tweeted a quote of Don Sweeney from his press conference after having fired the all time winningest coach in the history of one of the oldest franchisees in the NHL.

There’s numerous possible translations of this nearly coherent, almost cogent sting of words.

Option A:

Claude Julien wasn’t my guy. I decided to put someone I’m more likely to sit down and have a beer with in place.

Option B:

I went to Harvard. What’s happening now is irrelevant because I’m smart enough to see the path forward and because I went to Harvard, I’m completely capable of dragging this franchise in the direction I want it to go regardless of what everyone else who didn’t go to Harvard thinks.

Option C:

Julien refused to give into my wanting to help him make every decision from what color socks to where in the morning to who gets played each night and each shift, and the food on the plane. Cassidy on the other hand proved he’s a good lapdog when he was in Providence and I promised him then if he kept licking my hand just right I’d get him back to the NHL even though his previous stint in the big times was about Steve Kasper worthy.

Option D:

If Julien was half as good as he thinks he is, he’d be able to turn any collection of players into an NHL playoff appearance. Clearly his reputation is over blow, and since I played far more time in the NHL than he ever did, I know the game better than him and he’s not using the high quality assets I’ve assigned him to their fullest.

Less than twenty four hours after Sweeney spoke during game one of the Beanpot about committing to building the team the right way the dynamic duo announce they have relieved Claude Julien of his coaching duties.
In letting go of the Jack Adams award winner they flush the longest tenured coach in the NHL. By stropping the blade on Julien’s throat Sweeney and Neely clearly hope the cache they haven carried as players will allow them to escape blame (and unemployment) for a roster that is filled with underperformance and just plain bad hockey players.

Shuffling along at the front of the pack of underachieving players is David Krejci, who is slightly under last year’s points pace but has had a 16 point swing in goal differential. Tikka Rask who had an aggressively mediocre save percentage of. 915 last year has ebbed still lower to. 911 this year. Matt Beleskey has dried up and isn’t even a fraction of the barely league average player he was when he was signed. Jimmy Hayes is on pace to put up roughly one quarter of last year’s numbers.

Somehow the dynamic duo thought it would be a great idea to bring in Riley Nash a player of such stupendous and prodigious talent he had trouble staying on the roster of the woe begotten Carolina Hurricanes. He’s been such a stunning success his goal differential is worse than his career average. John Michael-Liles probably the least effective veteran to grace this team’s blue line since Joe Corvo. Joe Corvo. Joe Corvo. Instead of reupping with the adequate and reliable Gustavsson, they brought back injury plagued Khudobin. 

On top of the fiasco that is there off season roster moves they have likely alienated top players still on the roster. Patrice Bergeron came out in defense of his now former coach, as did Marchand, as did Chara. That’s the physical and emotional catalyst of this team.

Don Sweeney and Cam Neely not only made a foolish move to cover their own assets, it was likely unneeded as I know of no one with vision acute enough to cause then embarrassment.

Less than twenty four hours after Sweeney spoke during game one of the Beanpot about committing to building the team the right way the dynamic duo announce they have relieved Claude Julien of his coaching duties.
In letting go of the Jack Adams award winner they flush the longest tenured coach in the NHL. By stropping the blade on Julien’s throat Sweeney and Neely clearly hope the cache they haven carried as players will allow them to escape blame (and unemployment) for a roster that is filled with underperformance and just plain bad hockey players.

Shuffling along at the front of the pack of underachieving players is David Krejci, who is slightly under last year’s points pace but has had a 16 point swing in goal differential. Tikka Rask who had an aggressively mediocre save percentage of. 915 last year has ebbed still lower to. 911 this year. Matt Beleskey has dried up and isn’t even a fraction of the barely league average player he was when he was signed. Jimmy Hayes is on pace to put up roughly one quarter of last year’s numbers.

Somehow the dynamic duo thought it would be a great idea to bring in Riley Nash a player of such stupendous and prodigious talent he had trouble staying on the roster of the woe begotten Carolina Hurricanes. He’s been such a stunning success his goal differential is worse than his career average. John Michael-Liles probably the least effective veteran to grace this team’s blue line since Joe Corvo. Joe Corvo. Joe Corvo. Instead of reupping with the adequate and reliable Gustavsson, they brought back injury plagued Khudobin. 

On top of the fiasco that is there off season roster moves they have likely alienated top players still on the roster. Patrice Bergeron came out in defense of his now former coach, as did Marchand, as did Chara. That’s the physical and emotional catalyst of this team.

Don Sweeney and Cam Neely not only made a foolish move to cover their own assets, it was likely unneeded as I know of no one with vision acute enough to cause then embarrassment.

No team is perfect, even the cup winners. Some have more faults than highlights, and those teams end up drafting very high. That’s not quite the case with this year’s Boston Bruins. But they do have faults. Some of them are pretty obvious, some need a closer examination to uncover.

The Obvious Symptoms of their faults:

  • They have nothing like a viable backup.
  • They have issues scoring.
  • A powerplay that is wildly inconsistent
  • Incomplete top six
  • Poor offense from the backend
  • Lack of speed or physicality in some top 9 players

That’s the six problems. Some of this is covered up by some extraordinary strengths. The top six is graced by Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak who are speedy, and near the top of the NHL in scoring. That helps, but Patrice Bergeron is behind even the pace he set in the lockout shortened season, and is still thirteen points short of his 2008-09 season which was frankly dreadful by his standards.

David Krejci is scoring at a lower than expected, if still acceptable pace, but for just the second time in his nine full seasons on the Boston roster he’s got a negative goal differential. Part of this is his linemates, who have been varied and frequently very young. Part of it is that he’s never played the game at even average speed for the NHL, and he’s now on the down-slope to his 31st birthday. I’ve yet to see an NHL player who was faster at 31 than 21.

The defense is masked by Torey Krug who is 10th in scoring by defensemen. The next highest scoring defensemen are rookie Brandon Carlo who is currently at 89, and Zdeno Chara tied with the youngest player on the roster. The other guys are well over the event horizon. As a whole, they are quite good at limiting shot attempts, only two teams have allowed few shot attempts than the Bruins, and they are the Blues and Kings in the wretched western conference. They have also generated the most shot attempts meaning they are doing a reasonable job getting the puck out of their  own zone and keeping it in the offensive zone.

But their inability to score is undeniable. Only seven teams have scored less goals per game than the Bruins 2.52 per game.

  • The Buffalo Sabres
  • Detroit Red Wings
  • Florida Panthers
  • Vancouver Canucks
  • New Jersey Devils
  • Arizona Coyotes
  • Colorado Avalanche

You can’t win games that way, you just can’t. And as Tuukka Rasks non-contact groin injury proves, he’s not physically capable of playing so much of an NHL schedule. Despite the low number of shots per game, they all add up, and so does the time in the crease. Neither youngster has seized the backup role, and Khudobin is not the guy who was in Boston a couple years back.

So what do we know about the Bruins?

  1. They have an efficient, orderly defense that has performed its primary duty well, even though only one player (Krug) has played in all games.
  2. They aren’t getting scoring from anywhere not named Marchand or Pastrnak in enough weight to push them from “hurting themselves by making the playoffs” to “let’s show the youngsters the second round”.
  3. The coach must be being listened to or the defense would be worse and with the current offense it would have them well outside the playoffs.
  4. Backup goaltending is spotty at least this year with McIntyre still learning the progame, Subban rediscovering his balance in net after his throat injury, and Khudobin likely playing through an injury.
  5. They can probably spare a defenseman or two to help secure a good forward because scoring wise after Krug the difference between next and worst is minimal, and as a whole they play well, even through injuries and illnesses.

What are the biggest issues:

1: They need an offensive contributor in the top 6 who is a legitimate top line winger.

2: They need to find a way to compensate for the lack of speed of Krejci and Backes (or move on from one or both).

3: They need to get the powerplay settled so that it continues (as it has the last 5-10 games) to look like a top unit, and keep everyone’s head on straight.

3a: They need to get a backup who is going to get the team to play for him (and themselves) and who will in turn put in a respectable performance.

4: They need to remove guys from the roster/system who can either net a return to solve #1 or 3a (Budaj might be available soon).