The Pittsburgh Penguins have gotten off to a great start this season. They lead the Metropolitan Division with a game in hand. They are the only team in their division with a double digit goal differential. No one has a better or even a comparable powerplay, and their goaltender is having a career year. Sidney Crosby is producing at a rate he never has before, and he, Hornqvist and Malkin are all producing half or more of their points on the powerplay.

That’s the problem. Most of this is completely unsustainable. The Penguins powerplay is rocking along at 35.6%. Going back all the way to the 2005-06 season, the best a powerplay has finished is 26.8%. That’s 9% below what the team is rolling along at, and still well above the 21-22% the top powerplays have finished at in the last decade. When you consider that they are 13th in 5 on 5 scoring, you have to wonder how hard the fall will be.

Marc-Andre Fleury is saving a noticeably higher number of pucks than is normal for him. A career .911% save percentage with over 500 games played and no full season higher than .918, means people shouldn’t fall in love with his current .924. Through 12 games played he is also facing more shots per game than anytime in the last five years.

While there are lots of reasons for the decline, the Pittsburgh Penguins are near the top of the league in scoring in the first and second periods, and twentieth in third.  In the third period they’ve also allowed more goals than in any other period, 30% more goals than in either the first or second period. Is it conditioning? Is it desperation by the other team? Or are the Penguins just getting caught playing passively and running out the clock as happens to many teams?

Unsustainable powerplay, high reliance upon it for scoring, weak 3rd period, a goaltender fighting above his weight class all on one team add up to a team that will slide backwards at some point soon.

There are three clear things to understand about what Jim Rutherford has done. First, he signed a player who was art of a Stanley Cup win, in a lot of minds that’s important. Second in keeping Marc-Andre Fleury in the fold he has a known quantity in net for the foreseeable future. Third and most importantly, he has decided he doesn’t want to correct one area of opportunity via the draft or shrewd trades.

The contract itself is actually team friendly. Fleury will get a reported $5,750,000 per year for four years. That will put him in the same range as Corey Crawford, Cory Schneider, and Jimmy Howard who are, about average NHL netminders. These teams have all decided they want to go with good enough at the goaltending position, and make various attempts at the best in other positions and in system execution. None of them are likely to win the Vezina this year or next year, but they aren’t likely to

What are Marc-Andre Fleury’s numbers like when it counts? In the last five NHL playoff runs he had 13 games (Columbus 6, Rangers 7) and a .915%, going back to the previous year he had 5 games played (Islanders) and lost the starting job to Tomas Vokoun after turning salarya sv% of .883. The year before that was a seven game series (Flyers) where he turned in a performance that can’t be accurately described with a nice word than putrid for his .834%. In 2010-11 his .899 sv% was good enough to lose in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning. And courtesy of the wayback machine we know that back in 2009-10 his .891 sv% got the Penguins out of the first round against the Ottawa Senators, before he and the Penguins fell to the Montreal Canadiens in seven games, the final of which he played just twenty five minutes of and allowed four goals on thirteen shots.

The key to the deep playoff runs when they won the Stanley Cup (where he still allowed more goals than anyone) were a better defense than what has been seen in Pittsburgh since. If the Penguins who between Letang, Crosby, Malkin and now their netminder have $31,200,000.00 committed to just those four players can spend money on quality defense first defensemen, they might do better in the future than the recent past. With a total salary cap currently at $69m, spending almost half of it on four players, only two of them elite, seems like it might not lead to a long tenure for General Manager Jim Rutherford.

The Boston Bruins are not in good shape. They’ve lost half of their top six defensemen. Their offense is stagnant. They have cap issues galore. Today, the Boston Bruins are fifth in wild card race, otherwise known as 11th in the conference. With both Chara and Krug gone, that’s a very high percentage of the ability to get the puck out of the defensive zone and most of the offense from the blueline. Miller, like Chara played significant shorthanded time.

Even if/when Zdeno Chara is fully recovered from his knee injury, he’ll need at least a month to get his timing, and conditioning back. Torey Krug will likewise lose some conditioning and some dexterity in the hand with broken finger. As we’ve seen, Dougie Hamilton is nursing a hand injury as well. Despite the slash to hands by Minnesota Wild star defenseman Ryan Suter Hamilton is still playing but the next slash or puck to the hand could easily add him to the injured reserve.

The Bruins offense is in shambles, the Bergeron line looks like they’ve never played together. The best line the Bruins have features Chris Kelly who in his first ten NHL seasons hit 20 goals just once. Carl Soderberg who was a star in Sweden’s second tier league despite having only one fully functional eye. The last member of Swede2K is the frequently concussed Loui Eriksson who is being forced to play on his off wing. A quick look at the goaltending shows the number one goalie is 8 games into the season and has a save percentage under .900.

While no reasonable amount of players moved is going to get the Bruins the most ping-pong balls in the draft lottery, that isn’t an argument against trying to refresh the talent pool in the NHL, AHL, an junior hockey. The NHL Entry Draft in Sunrise Florida next June is expected not only to have very high end talent at the top but be deeper than most. Some have even compared it to the 2003 draft.

The team can easily shed a number of players, trading one of Brad Marchand or Milan Lucic should net either a top line right wing or the assets to get one. Moving Loui Eriksson could return a 1st round pick in the current draft, and maybe a young prospect. Matt Fraser, Adam McQuaid, Chris Kelly are all worth a second round pick or more. Assuming anyone wants Simon Gagne, or Jordan Caron at worst they bring back a mid round pick and clear a contract.

If the Bruins reduce the roster enough to have cap space to sign Dougie Hamilton, Carl Soderberg, Torey Krug, Reilly Smith, and a free agent or two in July it would be worth it. Having the ability to draft some NHL ready prospects in June, and give players already in the system extended NHL playing time is a win-win scenario. Assuming Peter Chiarelli is the right man to man to fix the team, a little short term pain could reset the team for long term success. With the right players moved, the Boston Bruins drop to 23rd to 26th in the NHL. That means top ten picks in each round they have all their own picks, and whatever picks they acquire. The other option is to overplay whoever happens to be healthy letting the team limp into the playoffs, and getting no better than mid round picks in each round but five to seven more wins in the regular season.

Last night the Boston Bruins lost their captain Zdeno Chara to reported knee injury. The list of accolades and accolades for the man passed over fifty five times in the 1996 draft doesn’t need to be repeated. But they do impact what happens in his absence. Chara vacating the lineup for two to three weeks is probably good for development of the other defenseman, namely Hamilton, Krug and whoever gets called up.

There are three questions:

  1. Is it a short term injury or a long term injury?
  2. If its long term, will he return at all?
  3. What type of replacement should the team go for in the medium to long term?

Currently the Boston Bruins say he’ll be out four to six weeks with no surgery needed. That means December, early in the month if things go well. But given all the complications possible in joints that endure much less stress than a 24 minute a night nearly seven foot tall bruising NHL defenseman, the probability it will take Chara more than six weeks to return is very real.

But, given that the man has played through broken fingers to the point where he no longer has feeling in two of them, he might not even have felt the injury given all the other damage to his body over the years. That monstrous hit he laid on John Tavares could just be the last time he’s seen on the ice until his jersey is hoisted into the rafters. Let’s not forget that while he’s a physical fitness freak, two weeks after the trade deadline he’ll be 38 years old. While the evidence shows Father Time does play favorites, being a top player in a physically demanding collision sport means everyone leaves the sport younger than they want to.

A laundry list of the Boston Bruins prospects in college or in the minors won’t turn up anyone who can contribute even 75% of what Chara does. Rob O’Gara is tantalizing, Linus Arnesson has more than a few admirers, and Joe Morrow was actually taken just a few picks after Dougie Hamilton. One or more of those young men may have to be part of a package to bring back a viable top three defenseman to fill in for any period longer than seven or eight weeks.

The list of who might be both useful and available isn’t that long. Marc Staal has been supplanted by Ryan McDonagh on the New York Rangers depth chart, but he’s still a pretty damned effective defenseman. He’s also a UFA on July 1, and the Rangers will likely not have room to sign him. As a pure defensive defenseman, Mark Stuart might just be the answer. Like Chara he plays over three minutes a night of short handed time on ice, he is familiar with Claude Julien’s system, the Boston fans and media, and he’s a leader, he’s not a top three defenseman but given the market for defensemen, he might be a good fit.

Luke Schenn is another intriguing possibility. The Flyers season isn’t going any better than Boston’s and while the Fyers have less in the way of young building blocks they also have a new general manager who has yet o really put his stamp on the team. With another year on his contract, and then a raise due after that he’s more than a rental. He’s only slightly older than Hamilton and Krug but has more NHL experience than both put together. The Arizona Coyotes might be convinced to part with Zbynek Michalek. He’s a solid 21 or so minute a night guy who plays hard and reliably.

Whatever the Boston Bruins do, short, medium or long term the post-Chara era must be planned for, and planned or now.

Rumors are flying about Brian Campbell and his days being numbered in Sunrise Florida. While the Red Wings are the most discussed landing spot, as they are for every defenseman, the biggest questions is not where should he go (if anywhere) but what for.

Brian Campbell first has the mystique of being a Stanley Cup champion. Second, he’s an offensive minded (although more complete than many give credit for) defenseman. Second, he’s been impressively healthy. His last missed game was back in the 2010-11 season. He’s got almost 100 games of NHL playoff experience, and while he’s not going to challenge the best of the league for speed anymore, no one thinks he’s slow. His average nights work minute wise is also impressive clocking in each year at 25-26+ minutes per game.

On the other hand he’ll be 36 before the next Stanley Cup is handed out, has played possibly a dozen meaningful games since arriving in Sunrise, and then there’s his contract. He’s making over $7.1m a year. His points totals are erratic swinging wildly and widely from year to year. It isn’t news, and arguably isn’t relevant that he’s undersized and not a physical presence.

‘So what should the Florida Panthers be asking for in exchange for their best known skater?

  1. Young defensive talent.
  2. Healthy mid career forwards who can help Jonathan Huberdeau, Barkov, and Bjugstad drag the team into the playoffs at least two or three years in a row.
  3. Several draft picks, at least equal to what the New York Islanders paid to acquire Johnny Boychuk which was two seconds and a conditional third.

Why is he worth more than Boychuk despite age and a larger contract?

  1. He’s much better offensively, even in the down years.
  2. Speed.
  3. An additional season beyond this one in which a team would have price certainty and the option to turn him over for additional or at least different assets.
  4. He’s played in big, small and “non traditional” markets and should be able to adjust on ice and of to whatever conditions he’s presented with pretty quickly.

The Boston Bruins are desperately in need of experienced right wings to balance their lines and get their top six to look like it. What’s needed is right wings who have playoff experience, play the right wing naturally, and be on teams either trending towards a rebuild or at most not considered centerpieces of the teams future. That means the injured Evander Cane who plays left wing and center is out, Jordan Eberle is not even worth thinking about, and players who bounce between positions are suboptimal.

Here’s three reasonable names.

Alex Semin

If there’s any guy hungry to prove himself, and who knows how to find the back of the net it is Semin. He’s got top shelf hands, passes well, and while he’s not the best skater in the league is still above average.  The cost would be high, and so is his salary, but with three season more on his contract, it would allow for drafting and developing replacements.

Brad Boyes

Yes a retread, and yes he’s not a long term solution, but he’s managed to put together solid numbers the last two seasons despite playing on sub-par teams. With a low salary, a familiarity with the teams core, and two years of good health, now might just be the time to bring home a former fan favorite.

Blake Wheeler

Another familiar name, but at 28 he’s the youngest name so far, he’s a great skater, turned in 28 goals last year on a not great team. He’s consistent, a great skater, has a well rounded game, and most importantly did well as a young player under Claude Julien.

For some interesting names that are a bit of a reach, but might still work.

Colton Sceviour a Dallas Stars prospect who has done a lot of scoring in the AHL.

Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers, is arguably the best fit, and probably the hardest to pry loose from his current team.

Jarome Iginla, see Wayne Simmonds, and also Brad Boyes.

Vladamir Taresenko while he might be squeezed free from the St Louis Blues, its questionable if he’d make enough impact to push the team where he’d want to go.

Peter-BS

The Bruins off ice leadership is pretty consistent. They do the same things over and over, and for their part the Bruins fans just take it with little complaint. Chiarelli and Neely dangle a new, young, talented player in front of the fans, then punting that player or players away just as soon as enough tickets are sold or they fail to play like a fifth year veteran by the end of their sixth shift.

This year the dangled players are unusually varied. We have almost seen Seth Griffith, sorta seen Ryan Spooner, there was the hope of seeing Brian Ferlin and David Warsofsky, but hey fans have gotten more of Jordan Caron, something that was on the top of the off season wishlist of fans everywhere.  If you get the feeling you’ve seen this dog and pony show before, you have. It’s all been done before.

A few years back Boston Bruins were treated to a never ending rotation of two promising young defensemen. The tale of two Matt’s, who were largely treated like doormats. We’d see Matt Hunwick, and Matt Lashoff, and they’d be in and out of the lineup, rarely getting more than a handful of games in a row. Which isn’t exactly how you develop young defensemen. Hunwick eventually went on to lead the Colorado Avalanche in time on ice one season before moving on to the New York Rangers. Lashoff was so broken he washed out of the league with less than 40 NHL games after leaving the Boston Bruins and his career is sputtering in Europe. Fans of course got to watch both get flailed by leadership, hope was lost.

Then there was Phil Kessel and eventually Tyler Seguin, and it was hit me baby one more time. Kessel lasted a couple years while they had no one else. Seguin lasted until they had to pay him. This year it was the David Pastrnak show and if you’re imagining Peter Chiarelli and his brain trust doing a rousing rendition of Oops I Did It Again, you are not alone.

Peter-BS

So far this season, the question is where do broken hearts go, because Carl Soderberg should not be leading the team in scoring, and whatever the statistics page says Adam McQuaid is not the most offensively gifted defenseman in the Boston system. The team is unbalanced with little talent playing in their natural position on the right side, making the left side easier to isolate and shut down. Instead of moving out excess centers and left wings to bring in a viable NHL right wing, the team has decided to sign a guy who can’t stay healthy, hasn’t played a game in over year, and hasn’t been healthy in the post season in almost five years.

This isn’t the first time they’ve take someone washed up and put them in the lineup over a promising young player. This time it is Simon Gagne over Jared Knight, Seth Griffith and the rest of the prospect, in the past it was Shane Hnidy over Steve Kampfer. Only time will tell what happens to this roster, the young and old players being shuffled in and out of the lineup, and of course the management doing it. I would have to recommend against holding ones breath until something good happens.

For more read here.

The New York Islanders did something today that they refused to do for a long time; they parted with prospects and draft picks. Playoffs or Bust has to be the mantra this year, and now they have the weapons to do it.

Nick Leddy has played all 258 of his NHL regular season games with the Chicago Blackhawks. Drafted 16th in 2009, Leddy has been with the Chicago Blackhawks through a Stanley Cup win, represented the USA in the Ivan Hlinka tournament and World Hockey U20.

The other half of the acquisitions of the day is the big bodied Boychuk. Johnny Boychuk has played over 300 NHL games, 4 of them for the Colorado Avalanche, and owns one of the hardest shots in the NHL. Known for physical play, and composed puck moving the defenseman also has his name on the Stanley Cup.

Combined the two represent $6,066,667 in salary added to the New York Islanders without Garth Snow giving up a single roster player. This is a serious amount of experiences minutes now in the capable hands of two quality defenders. There is now now excuse for the Islanders not to finish their last season in the old barn with a trip to the playoffs.

Watching the NHL always provides surprises. There’s always one, maybe two teams that make the playoffs or go on runs. But there are some things that are pretty easy to predict.

10:

A healthy Anton Khudobin plays more games for the Carolina Hurricanes than Cam Ward. Just look at the numbers. Even with Jordan Staal healthy the talent pool in Carolina remains too shallow to carry a much loved goalie who hasn’t been in the top third of the league in a while. Sorry, but the Canes are going to have actually focus on the back half of the ice this year to have a hope of keeping the team out of the lottery.

 

9:

Top flight players in ‘small’ markets will be overlooked for award recognition. Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Weber, Mikko Koivu, and others can look forward to another season of being ignore with superior play than guys who play in Toronto, Montreal, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, or New York.

8:

A team or teams that spend money and worry on their powerplay but not on their penalty kill will roll through the regular season and get punched out of the playoffs early by a team with the opposite imbalance.

7:

Players who skate with their heads down and get laid out by good clean hits will be defended by people who think that collision sports are a danger free where no one bears any responsibility for their own safety.

6:

A variety of media manufactured crises. Take a long hard look at good hard hits, the way hybrid icing and rules to cut back on fighting have been implemented that’ll be next as guys and gals who take a month and four days to recover  from stubbing their toes tell grown men what’s unsafe for them.

5:

A really early leak of the next Winter Classic game, complete with teams who have already played in an outdoor game.

4:

The trade deadline will come and go with enormously more hype than movement. One, maybe two players who are in the top 50 or 60 in their position will be moved and people will go spastic making comparisons to “huge” trades in recent years.

3:

Don Cherry and whoever his cohost is will continue to mutter inane things while hockey pundits who don’t understand the game feign shock and outrage over things that have been said approximately elventybillion times

2:

The music acts chosen to perform at NHL events will be anything but the American mainstream the league bends over backwards to attract but who aren’t really interested anyway.

1:

Reputation calls will still occur far to often on the ice.