The Warrior Ice Arena is a totally different place to watch the youngsters than the Ice Box in Wilmington.

My first impulse today was to wonder at the fitness level of the first group on the ice. Yes they were hamming it up for the cameras on the ice, but they were also clearly laboring. When guys like Bjork, Gabrielle, and Sherman look a bit slower than normal it i a pretty safe bet Whitesides and crew have been up to their tricks testing and building the fitness of the prospects.

Wiley Sherman continued to eat opposing players alive, in one on one drills they usually didn’t make it over the blueline. He looks to have an even higher percentage of lean mass this year, and he wasn’t exactly fluffy last time I saw him.

Ryan Donato is just polished. He is clearly one of the most talented players, not just one of the oldest.

Oskar Steen is clearly more physically mature than last year, and make four or five passes that drew notice.

Anders Bjork should be your favorite to take a roster spot in Boston this fall of all the players yet to play a professional game. Like Donato he’s fast, he’s agile, and he may have the best shot accuracy of all the forwards outside the NHL/AHL.

Daniel Bukac was their seventh round pick this year, I didn’t need to look up his stats to see him as a defensive minded defenseman. He didn’t seem out of his element playing against the older forwards.

Perhaps the most surprising guy was late invitee James Corcoran, the Walpole High goaltender. Smaller guy, but really, who cares? I liked his ability to hold the post while down, and still extend well forward and uses his stick. Snappy glove too.

Jack Becker might have been feeling the least wear from whatever was going on before practice. Only Senyshyn appeared faster in drills and rushes. Becker skated well, passed solidly.

During the scrimmage Jack Studnicka had a completely filthy, behind the back, through the defenders legs pass to Bjork pass that should rightly have sent everyone in the building to decontamination showers. (Bjork roofed it.)

A late add was Ori Abramson, a big defensive minded defenseman born in Ontario and attending University of Vermont. He’s a little older than most of the prospects but didn’t look out of place. Leans towards a close space and use stick type of defense.

Okay, playoffs are arguably better. But during the playoffs only half the teams in the NHL are involved at all, and only a few have any hope.

This is free agency. Everyone has hope of landing the big fish. Everyone has hope of being pushed over the top. And everyone desperately fears the big flop.

This year there are some mighty interesting names to go around. Joe Thornton still has an amazing set of hands and can pass a puck through three defenders, two officials and an airport scanner with his eyes closed. He’s also hockey-old, and on his way to hockey-elderly. But damn, those hands.

Unless one or more general managers blows a gasket over the next two or three weeks Jarome Iginla is likely going to do something he hasn’t done in more than a decade; try out. The Calgary Flames icon is on the backend of his playing journey, and looking for Lord Stanley. Maybe he’s a fit for Hossa’s spot in Chicago? Could he help provide some blue collar attitude to the New York Rangers? Maybe, like Jason Pominville he can go home again. Number 12 taking power plays with Monahan and Gaudreau might be just what the team needs. Adding his feisty nature to Matthew Tkachuk might be the secret ingredient in a very silver cup of soup.

Going a little bit younger Nail Yakopov is not yet 25, and already a UFA. It looks like a first round draft pick was wasted on him. But there has to be something salvageable about him, right? Maybe a tight-knit, disciplined, and demonstrably  hungry and successful team like the Nashville Predators or the Pittsburgh Penguins (who found room for Ryan Reaves) can rehab this once shiny, and still low mileage sport coupe.

Speaking of projects, Jared Cowen is the big, strong defensemen teams swear they’re looking for. The run on then at the draft is proof the desire is real. At just over the 200 games it takes to get defensemen acclimated to the NHL, he’s already played under several coaches. Maybe, just maybe the next coach and team catapult his development to a top four stalwart.

Jonathan Bernier is seemingly the best traveled goalie in the NHL of late. At this point it is hard to tell if everyone wants him, or if no one wants him for long. The veteran backstop carried just about half the load for a Ducks team that went to the Western conference finals. He is at present without a contract.

Karl Alzner is probably the most underrated player entering free agency. He’s a steady middle pairing defenseman who can come into a team, and allow other players to be slotted right where they need to be. He skates well, he’s got reasonable hands and he doesn’t take stupid penalties.  He’ll be almost completely ignored while his soon to be former team mate Kevin Shattenkirk signs a contract that is likely to become an anchor to some franchise for six or seven years. But hey, its free agency. Imagine if we add…  is the order of the day.

The Boston Bruins need to do something with their RFAs and the need to do it quickly. They failed to move a disgruntled and ill fitting Ryan Spooner either at the expansion draft, or the entry draft. They were however lucky enough that someone mistook Colin Miller for a viable option on defense.

In order:

  1. David Pastrnak
  2. Zane McIntyre
  3. Noel Accari
  4. Malcolm Subban
  5. Colton Hargrove

And after that it’s entirely irrelevant who or what order they sign in. Even there, Pasternak far outweighs all the rest. Even saying that, I think both goaltenders are still viable. Noel Accari is in any reasonable evaluator’s mind a solid bottom six forward. Colton Hargrove can do everything Tim Schaller did, and play both wings. He’s also likely to be a bit healthier

With just a couple days left until free agency starts they have 36 of 50 total contracts, and as many as five roster spots available for forwards, plus a seventh defenseman. Morrow might languish in the pressbox for another year after a very strong showing in the playoffs. He too is unsigned.

The Bruins need to clear some dead weight from the roster. Push Hayes and Spooner overboard. Get the younger, hungrier players who will drive harder to be better players every shift into the lineup. Maybe you have to sacrifice Kevan Miller in a trade for O’Gara and Grzelcyk to make a run at the NHL without looking over their shoulders. What they can’t continue to do is let good players stagnate while sewing guys who cut corners and have slapdash effort to the roster.

We are days from free agency when the NHL feeding frenzy will erupt and every GM with a roster spot and a dollar will turn into a shark in well chummed water. That means the time to solve their roster and cap problems.

As things stand they are almost one and a half million over the salary cap. That includes just six defenseman. It also includes thirteen forwards including the thirty-eight year old Marian Hossa who is signed for this and three additional seasons at nearly six million a year. Think about that. Even if he comes back next year having recovered from his skin ailment. He’ll be 39 years old, having suffered a season erasing illness, and still pretty expensive.

If they put Hossa on LTIR they’ll have $3,829,372 in cap room. They’ll need to replace him on the roster, and add a defenseman. With two guys on their entry level contracts you’re looking at about two million, minimum. And that leaves very, very little room for the inevitable injuries. Given the way the mumps have spread among Canadian players in the last half decade, it likely means you’ll need space on the roster and under the cap for a few days for two to three players at a time.

They are almost certainly going to need to trade someone. Hossa has a full no movement, and won’t be attractive without including some kind of overpayment going the other way. The Buffalo Sabres could certainly use someone who is part of the fairly expensive core of the Blackhawks, unfortunately there are six, count them six players including Hossa who have full no movement clauses. Marcus Kruger adds to the mess with a seven team no trade list.

To complicate things further, they have RFA’s Tomas Jurco, Anton Forsberg, and Dennis Rasmussen they need to do something with. Stan Bowman likely can’t keep Johnny Oduya, Andrew Desjardins, and Brian Campbell. There’s a lot to do. I’ve said before there are no cap problems, only management problems. There may be a path forward from here, but unless Vegas, Carolina, and Florida start earning enough to push the cap up about fifteen million in the next two years, they have long term problems of the sort that lead to complete turnover in front offices.

This years NHL entry draft was described as lacking the ultra high-end talent that we saw in the two previous drafts which produced Eichel, Matthews, and McDavid. A more in depth look at the scouting reports will show you you’re looking a a higher percentage of middle six forwards, 3-5 defensemen, and strong number 2 and journeyman goalies than in more exciting years.

In some ways this is the perfect year for an expansion team to come into the league. In drafts where you have two or three elite players at the top like the Ovechkin/Malkin draft, you may not have as much depth, or as much consistency further down the rankings. The first round this year saw the mild surprise of Nico Hischier going first, despite nearly universal projections for him to go one slot behind Nolan Patrick of that Patrick family.

I suspected that given all the turmoil in New Jersey over the last two or three years health would be a priority. I was not surprised. Gabe Vilardi was expected to go in the top five and slid nearly out of the first round. Owen Tippett is headed to Florida where I predict a sunburn or two, and not just on the back of the neck of opposing goaltenders.

Don’t anyone sleep on the trade of Brayden Schenn from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Jori Lehtera and Morgan Frost. Lehtera was exposed by the Blues and one has to wonder if there were hard feelings before or after he learned he was not that highly valued by the Blues. This trade has the potential to workout for both sides, but it doesn’t feel like an even trade. The Blues also traded Reaves for Sundqvist, and it so both they and the Penguins will have a very different feel next year. Assuming Reaves ends up playing.

While the trades during the first round were interesting, the Rangers and Coyotes have just about transformed their rosters.

 

As a life long Boston Bruins watcher it’s hard to believe I’m about to write this column. I’ve tweeted about their biggest need before. I’ve posted to Facebook too, and anyone who’s heard me talk about the makeup of the Boston Bruins team in particular and the organization as a whole has probably heard me expound at least once.

The biggest need of the Boston Bruins isn’t a talent. It isn’t a position. Instead, they desperately need an attitude. Or maybe personality is a better term for it.

When you look up and down the roster who is the fireeater? Who is the guy you know will be angry enough after a bad game or getting porked by the officials that police and Garden security flinch away when he leaves the ice? On bad days when teammates are a two zeros and six miles 100% which of these dudes is going to drop f-bombs like he’s auditioning for a Tarantino film?

I don’t see that guy. Marchand is probably the snarliest guy day in and day out. You can probably put Krug into your top five most belligerent players too, but it doesn’t matter. The two of them are a cinder blocks short of 5’10. They are also wildly underappreciated for their very real, very formidable skill sets. 

The fire started to wane when Mark Stuart was traded. Tim Thomas retiring Andy Ference being let go, even Johnny Boychuk had some visible heat. We’ll skip entirely the Mellott Line, and merely lament the back injuries that laid low Nathan Horton. Milan Lucic was evicted from the Hub.

Who has replaced even a fraction of that passion? Who is the surly son of a Bruin that tips the shop the right way when the rest of the crew is asleep on the bench? 

No one

That needs to be fixed.

.

As a life long Boston Bruins watcher it’s hard to believe I’m about to write this column. I’ve tweeted about their biggest need before. I’ve posted to Facebook too, and anyone who’s heard me talk about the makeup of the Boston Bruins team in particular and the organization as a whole has probably heard me expound at least once.

The biggest need of the Boston Bruins isn’t a talent. It isn’t a position. Instead, they desperately need an attitude. Or maybe personality is a better term for it.

When you look up and down the roster who is the fireeater? Who is the guy you know will be angry enough after a bad game or getting porked by the officials that police and Garden security flinch away when he leaves the ice? On bad days when teammates are a two zeros and six miles 100% which of these dudes is going to drop f-bombs like he’s auditioning for a Tarantino film?

I don’t see that guy. Marchand is probably the snarliest guy day in and day out. You can probably put Krug into your top five most belligerent players too, but it doesn’t matter. The two of them are a cinder blocks short of 5’10. They are

There was a nice quiet day of trades in the NHL heading into the Expansion Draft that will allow the Vegas Golden Knights to plump up their organization.

4: In Division Trade

When you make a trade within your division, you’re almost certainly always saying that someone involved is irrelevant. When the Jonathan Drouin for Mikhail Sergachev went down we learned something. We already knew the Canadiens make goofy trades for frequently non-hockey reasons. So we either learned that Yzerman doesn’t in anyway value the player he spent a year refusing to trade even when Drouin failed to report to the AHL, or that he’s revealed the depth of his respect for the Montreal organization.

It’s almost certainly the latter. Given the lack of skilled, speedy offensive centers who can keep up with Jonathan Drouin in Montreal, and who the head coach is, the math isn’t hard. Yzerman expects Drouin to be less impactful in Montreal than he was in Montreal. Clearing five point five million from his cap didn’t hurt, but sticking a player on a team who you can expect to produce at about seventy five cents on the dollar doesn’t happen often, when it’s a division rival its cheap at twice the price.

3: Commitment?

For years the Arizona Coyotes were wed in holy matrimony to Mike Smith, the Calgary Flames on the other hand had a soured soiree with Chad Johnson. Smith had Vezina quality seasons in a Coyotes uniform, and was also awful With nearly 500 regular season starts, the veteran has seen a lot, but its likely the 35 year still has a few good seasons on the clock.

Johnson has played only about a quarter as many games and is one of the better gents in a backup roll in the NHL. In a starting role he’s untested.

The question is are the Coyotes unwilling to keep their commitment for the final two years of Smith’s contract, or was the newest Calgary Flame wanting out of town due to the uncertainty that seems to be as thick in the wind as the sand?

 

2:  Franchise or Franc-choice?

Nathan Beaulieu was talked up in two languages as the best thing to happen to Montreal’s blueline in a long time just a couple years ago. In the Montreal tradition, like McDonagh, Subban, Weber, and half a dozen others expected to be NHL contributors, he’s moved along, and again to a division rival. The Buffalo Sabres who just added their general manager, add a defensemen picked 17th for a third round pick. Is Beaulieu going to achieve what McDonagh or Subban have? Probably not, but Yannick Webber was let go for nothing by the Montreal Canadiens, and like his fellow recovering Hab P.K. Subban, he just ran to the Cup finals.

With just over 200 games played in the NHL, we’re starting to see who he really is. Was it not speaking French? A lack of faith in him from Julien, or just another Habs blunder.

1: Two Little is Not Enough

The Coyotes did make a move. They should have made more. With teams like the Matt Dumba, and Hampus Lindholm or even Codi Ceci potentially available, the most vulnerable team to losing anyone did themselves a great disservice by not making a second notable move to enhance the defense. Even if they decided not to keep Dumba or another player after a trade, its certain the value he holds would allow them to pick up another piece or two to help them move in the right direction.

The Stanley Cup Finals are over. The hockey season is over. And worse, the NHL Front Office and Pittsburgh Penguins have won.

A team that had numerous favorable calls made for them, and at least as many calls not made against them most notably the debacle of Sidney Crosby slamming P.K. Subban’s head into the ice. Not just for the non call, not just for the non suspension, not just for the racial overtones, not for completely ignoring the concussion protocol, but because it showed explicitly what everyone who has any ability to decipher an NHL game already knows: The front office care more about which market, and player, wins the Cup than it does about what is actually best for the game, the players, or the fans.

As if further proof were needed, the Conn-Smyth went to about the fourth or even fifth most influential player on the Penguins winning the Cup. Matt Murray was stellar behind a banged up defense. Geno Malkin was unarguably better, Jake Guentzal played in hall of fame territory. Brian Doumalin was quietly the best of the Penguins defense from their 83rd game of the season right until the end. Justin Schultz did a great deal to fill the Letang void. Then there was Crosby.

In a season when Crosby should rightly have been suspended for nearly removing the finger of Marc Methot, a playoff suspension, as a repeat offender after Crosby attempted to injure Subban would have taken him out at least two games. But using the marking plan that has been in place since 2005 is far, far more important than doing what is right.