A series dedicated to a retrospective on the last season and a hope for next.

Mark Stuart:

Despite the Bruins continued failure to stock the jersey of the guy who hits with the force of his uniform number caliber, he’s a fan favorite. With good reason is Mark Stuart beloved by the Garden Faithful and the cavalry beyond the causeway. He epitomizes Bruins Hockey. He never takes shifts, much less nights off, he will stick up for himself and his team mates with out batting an eyelash and he does everything in his power to help the team succeed.  As a defensive defenseman he’s at his best blocking shots, taking away shoots, and breaking up passes.

This season was hampered by his first trip to the injury unit in his time as a Bruin. Worse, his second and third trips to the trainers table followed hard on its heels. Having entered the Bruins line up two full seasons ago and stayed there up until the time of his first injury he was the Bruins reigning Iron-Man at the time of his first injury a broken sternum. His second injury occurred after leveling one of the best and most underrated players in the NHL.

Next season is pretty simple for the man dubbed The Caceman, continue to improve his offense, keep his defense at at the level that made him the best defenseman on the ice in the Carolina series two years back and stay healthy. He’ll likely be paired with Johnny Boychuck for a good portion of the season. Several times last year they were the best pairing on the ice. With the additional seasoning both have received I can’t wait to see what havoc they reap on both ends of the ice.

David Krejci:

As the Bruins third center, he has mostly seen time against the number two and number three defensive units of other teams. This past season saw him spend time as either the number one or two center when injuries took Bergeron and Savard out of the lineup. The difference in quality of competition showed more than once as top defensemen and better forwards than the previous campaigns exploited his less than two seasons of NHL experience.

Lamed is the best word to describe Krejci’s second full season in Boston. Lamed by the recovery from a hip injury which he returned to the ice from ahead of time. Lamed by wingers either plagued with inconsistency and off ice issues or just buried in the midst of what admirers and management hope was a sophomore slump. Between the mud puddle depth on wing and a team that seemed to regard apathy as its first duty this young centers season had few highlights.

Next season he has to first hope for rejuvenated wingers or an upgrade in them. He also needs to keep his awareness of the puck and opponents high or risk another season ending injury like the clean and clobbering Mike Richard’s hit that took him out of the playoffs.

Any draft in which you can get a personable, self motivated, healthy high end player has to be considered at least modestly successful. When they player happens to be versatile, prolific, and comparable to Steven Stamkos and other players who deserve at least the tentative title of franchise corner stone the draft shouldn’t take much more than that to be wildly successful. If only that were the case in the Bruins 2010 draft selections.

While it’s become a truism in hockey (at least in public) that one should draft for quality over need, it gets increasingly hard to see where the Bruins have done that for the past several years, or that other teams are consistently doing that.  Take for example the tenth selection in this years draft. While Dylan Mcilrath is not anyones idea of a poor defenseman, both Cam Fowler and Brandon Gormley were still on the board, both of whom many expected to go in the top five. The two qualities McIlrath had in excess of Fowler and Gormley are size and aggressiveness. Given the Rangers top six forwards acquired just three major penalties last season it’s not hard to conclude that Sather expects McIlrath to inject some testosterone into his blueline. This is a clear, and savvy use of drafting for need. If only the Bruins had done so as well.

As my last post was meant to illustrate, the Bruins have an enormous number of players either drafted at or playing now at center, more than any other position by far. As the acquisitions of Seidenberg, Boychuck, Morris and others over the last couple years clearly outlines the Bruins have not spent nearly as much energy scouting and drafting defensemen. The only men who were drafted by the Bruins and played a regular role on their defense last year were Mark Stuart and Matt Hunwick. The Ducks drafted both Emerson Etem and Cam Fowler, addressing their needs, with quality.

The Bruins on the other hand opened their eyes and let the golden boy Tyler Seguin fall into them, and otherwise assumed a prone position and waited hoping something good would fall into their hands. When good, and potentially very good players were free , they failed to take them.  When they had the opportunity to scoop up the coveted Petrovic, a puck moving defenseman with the 32nd pick, they added yet another small center. Without batting an eye they also skipped over the chaotic Kabanov whose talent is undoubted.  Thirteen picks later, they again skip Kabanov for the undersized Spooner.

Of the Bruins picks at forward in this draft, only Florek who is two years older than most draftees pays even lip service to the Bruins stated desire to get bigger at forward. Florek was the Bruins fifth round pick.

With their first seventh round pick, the Bruins picked an Andrew Ference like Russian defenseman who plays less minutes than the Bruins 2006 2nd rounder Alexandrov, whom the Bruins have yet to get into their uniform for even a single appearance in the AHL or NHL. While that is expected to be remedied this fall, I can’t help but wonder how much better the Bruins would have done against Carolina if Alexandrov had been skating in Black & Gold two years ago and not Steve Montador.

So, from overlooking talent that may be a challenge in Kabanov, failure to fill the teams needs on defense, and standing around doing nothing while good players free fell potentially into their laps, the Bruins final grade for the 2010 draft is:

C-

LA: There’s a lot to love about the Kings. You’ve got one of the four or five most talented defensemen under 25 in Drew Doughty, and joining him on the blueline one of the shut down tandem from the Penguins most recent Cup win,  in Rob Scuderi, and then the highly regarded Jack Johnson. Up front you have one of the most underrated centers in the league in Anze Kopitar, team a team captain who reminds me of a young Shane Doan in Dustin Brown, and Alexander Frolov who as involved in trade rumors from training camp through the deadline.

What’s not to love? Well, there’s the more than four goals per game they gave up, which was in fact the most of any playoff team  There’s the equally bad penalty kill, which dropped from a middling 80.3% in the regular season to 75% in the post season.  But the most glaring fault is that they scored just seven of their eighteen post season goals 5 on 5, while giving up seventeen total 5 on 5 goals.

While penalty kill, and goaltending both need to improve for a solid run next year, they need to address the effort they make at even strength. Part of this is simply maturity, they were the second youngest team in the NHL last season, and for much of the team this was their first taste of the playoffs. The teams veterans need to step up and help steady the ship.  One of the veteran goaltenders available as a UFA might be a wise investment as a mentor and competitor for Quick. And I don’t see anyway adding a blue collar guy like Shane Hnidy or Colby Armstrong could hurt the team. A guy like that has a steady output and disposition that can be invaluable.

Atlanta: The Atlanta Thrashers led their division in PK% last season, unfortunately they were in the Southeast division and all that got them too was to be the highest team in the bottom half of the NHL’s PK%.  It is however a strength they can build on. Surprisingly, their powerplay was woeful, even the anemic Boston Bruins, and Carolina Hurricanes were their betters. They finished number 12 in scoring during the regular season, handily beating several of the teams that did make the playoffs.

The Thrashers are in a very comfortable place going into the draft and free agency. They have $28.93 in committed cap space to just 12 players, that number will likely change soon as RFA’s Bryan Little and Niclas Bergfors are due a contract.

If I’m sitting in the GM’s office with 2 first round picks and nine overall, I’d have several of the more cash strapped teams firmly in the cross-hairs and try to pot a deal that get’s me a big name forward that lets me replace some of the star power lost when Kovulchuk was traded. With the 8th and 24th picks, and a viable defense a solid goalie pick like Pickard, isn’t outside question with the second of those two picks, especially if they can sign a veteran like Turco to be the #1 now while mentoring their goalie prospect.

Columbus:  This is a team that is designed not to lose. Last year they were aggressively mediocre. They were #17 in PK%, 14 in PP%, and right around the middle of the NHL in other team categories. Their mission this off season should be to figure out who they want to be when they grow up. They don’t appear to have a team identity.  Or at least one that isn’t so Clark Kent bland as to be nearly invisible.

They don’t have much depth at forward, with four players scoring just 1 goal short of half their goals for lest season. Do they use their picks to snatch up say Connolly or Etem at #4 and hope for Kabanov to still be on the board at #34 in an effort to put their offense over the top? Do they snatch Campbell or Gudbranson and trade a later pick and or player for an RFA defenseman who can help them? It almost doesn’t matter, they just need to pick an identity and seize it with both hands.

Anaheim: If I asked you to name the top five regular season could you? If you left the Ducks out, you fail. They were tied with San Jose for percentage and finished fifth in this key statistic. They finished the season 7th ahead in the NHL in total goals for. With the 24th ranked penalty kill, and the third most penalties of any team it’s hard to say if the PK itself is horrible, or if they just show it off so much it is easily dissected, which ever is the case, they need to be more disciplined.

They’ve got a very solid goalie in Hiller, but their defense is the single biggest area of opportunity.  They’ve got money to spend with less than $39 million committed to a mostly full roster. Do we see an offer sheet from? Gunning for Ryan Parent, Mark Stuart might make sense given their situation. They might also take their two first round picks and ship them to the cap strapped Flames for Bouwmeester as a replacement for Pronger and Neidermayer.

This series will focus on how each NHL team can prepare for next season. I’ll be doing a few teams at a time.

Philadelphia : It’s hard to say what to tweak on a team that takes off in the playoffs, shows incredible resilience, has a ton of grit, and is a very deep team. The obvious answer is goaltending, and with good reason, yet Leighton had a better Sv% than Niemi did who went home with the Cup or Fluery who was the last winning goal tender. Leighton’s .916% was actually second in the playoffs this year.

What they really need to tweak is their depth at defense, having a fifth defender or even a sixth who can play even 10 to twelve minutes a night would do the top four a world of good.  The other key area is pure and simple physical fitness. Mike Richards is well known for disdaining the gym, and he and more than a few Flyers looked too tired to execute properly. They had the will and strength to win, but they flat out lacked the juice to power themselves to finish line. In game six they went extended stretches without offensive pressure.

Capitals:  A team that ran away with the scoring race showed they still have room for improvement, and that perhaps the management doesn’t understand the difference between the regular season and the playoffs.  They had the same fundamental flaw this year as they did last year. Like other teams that will be covered in later posts, they don’t have anything that even slightly resembles a shutdown defensive unit. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pairing like Gill & Scuderi as was the Penguins in their most recent Cup win, or the sort of committee work that Montreal used to shutdown two teams they were given no shot against. It might be time to deal Semin or Backstrom to bring back a known quantity like Suter, or someone with similar credentials from an offense starved team.

Vancouver:  They may actually have the easiest fix. This year between the preseason, regular season slog, Olympic’s and playoffs Luongo played around ninety games. That’s a huge workload for any goalie, for a guy who is the team captain on top of that there is little surprise he looked so worn by the time the Canucks run ended.  Adding a goalie who can play twenty five games and give the team the chance to win thirteen or fourteen of them is possibly the best remedy for what ails this team. Martin Biron, Alex Auld, or Dan Ellis might be had for reasonable cap hit.  Who knows, maybe they take a chance and draft one of the top goalie prospects?

Edmonton: Tempted as I am to say almost anything that isn’t quite fair. They did have an impressive last few weeks to the season tossing W’s up over LA, Detroit, Colorado, Vancouver, and San Jose, all playoff teams on their way to a .500 record in their final dozen games. Part of their problem was simply being one of the five youngest teams in the NHL.

The first thing they can do right this off season should be easy; draft Hall or Seguin. It doesn’t matter which, both are a right choice. This is a similar situation to the Ovechkin/Malkin draft. In this case it might make sense to actually draft for need, NHL teams seem to have a fixation on drafting “the best available player”, regardless of how he fits into their system. This is what led the Bruins to draft Kessel, despite his not being a sound fit. The question for the Oilers is which need. Do they take their adequate centers and gift them with an offensive machine? Do they give their wingers the man who might be the best center of the last two or three drafts? Or do they count on the versatility of one of these young men to allow them to draft the player they like best and tweak further by moving other pieces?

If I’m the front office and ownership in Edmonton, I can’t help but notice the success the Blackhawks, Penguins, Capitals and to a lesser extent the Coyotes have had recently after being very bad for a while and drafting well.  Personally I’d want to trade as many of the 26-30 year olds on the roster for top sixty picks in the next two drafts and use that foundation and some careful free agents to create a strong playoff team two season from now.