I had an on going argument over the value of Dennis Wideman to the Boston Bruins for nearly his entire tenure. One of us was of the opinion that his the offense and ability to dig the puck out of the defensive zone more than compensated for my opinion that he was a misplaced winger with no skating ability, the defensive tools of a three legged sheep, and all the hockey instincts that can be put into an eye dropper. It was a fun discussion, usually expressed in unprintable words with cheerful slander of each others wit, sanity, lineage and hockey knowledge. I miss the discussion more than I miss having number six consistently failing to contain passes on the blueline during a powerplay.

So what the hell does the title have to do with my mental meanderings up and down this page? Everything. I could forgive Wideman his scant defensive skills, and the fact he’s the worst skater I’ve ever seen making more than a million dollars a season. And yes, that most certainly includes Glen Murray (pre and post hip & ankle injuries), Aaron Ward and any goalie you care to name. What I can’t forgive is his work ethic.

Like Brad Boyes, whom the Bruins shipped out to get him, Wideman is the epitome of a “maybe, sometime” guy. These two are guys who put in a real effort maybe, sometimes and loaf the rest of the time. Boyes is a talented goal scorer who can bury the puck with the best of them, when he wants, which is –maybe, sometime. Wideman can make solid passes, has a more than respectable half-slapper, and is willing to block shots, but only maybe, sometimes. Neither player, exhibits a consistent work ethic.

Now compare these two to say, Alex Ovechkin. This is one of the fiercest competitors not just in the NHL but all of sports. When faced with blueline badass Zdeno Chara he doesn’t hesitate even half a step to go straight at the six foot nine monster. Even on night when Ovechkin is kept off the score board, he doesn’t stop trying to win the game. He hits, he clogs up passing lanes, he shoots, he passes, goes full tilt start to stop. Dennis Wideman, not so much.

Some might say that Ovechkin who has not just the fierce drive that others lack, but a double fistful of talent and athletic ability to with it is an unfair comparison. In some ways I agree, but not most. So how about former. Detroit Red Wing, Boston Bruin and Carolina Hurricane Aaron Ward. Strong skating, great offense, tremendous shot are not things you’ll find in any credible scouting report of the now former player. But positional soundness he possessed at the sports pinnacle, willingness to hit or be hit, and the ability to block hundreds of shots. Injured or healthy, home, road, preseason, regular season or post you knew when Ward stepped onto the ice every minute was a flatout effort to give his team the best possible chance to win. I don’t recall a single game during his tenure in Boston, or even a shift where I thought Ward was capable of giving more. Were there times he was beaten by a great pass or agile opponent, of course those happened to Bourque, and Orr to.

Wideman clearly, and manifestly lacks the willingness to compete shift by shift, night by night all season long. He’s so into the game he’s paid to play that he was caught absent-mindedly picking his nose on the bench instead of trying to keep track of the play like the number 2 defenseman he was (over)paid to be. He spent almost the entirety of last season loafing through shifts and rebuilding many of the bad habits he’d dropped the season before. When the playoffs came he turned on the jets and started to compete, but aside from allowing the Bruins to trade him out of town for well more than his worth, it accomplished little.

So from my seat tonight, I will not be cheering Wideman, not even once. Not because he’s no longer a Bruin, not because of his incomplete skill set but because I can’t stand maybe, sometimes guys.

So, last spring during that ignoble dive into the wrong history records, how many of you believed the reason Thomas wasn’t put in was that Julien had no confidence in Tim Thomas? I know some of you simply expected it was Julien’s well known, occasionally excessive, stubborn loyalty to a player that kept Rask in net as it kept certain skaters on the ice? I also know some of you never expected Thomas to play another game as a Bruin. I have just one question for you all now.

Are you done doubting Thomas yet? Right now, Tim Thomas has all of the Boston Bruins wins this year. He has the National Hockey league lead in goals against average, saves percentage, and shutouts. He’s just one win behind several goalies who have played more games. To top that off he’s also currently tied for the most wins for any Bruin’s goalie to start a season since the days when the NHL was about one fifth its current size. To put it in perspective, the Red Sox drought was still not old enough to vote, and Germany had yet to be split by the Iron Curtain.

At 36 years old Thomas is out playing Martin Broduer who many consider the best goalie ever, and even those less enamored of him will call a top 25 all time goalie. He’s outplaying last years Vezina winner Ryan Miller, and any other goalie you can name and scores you can’t.

Thomas has smacked down the assumption he’d spend most of the season opening the bench door for Rask and robbing the team of cap space to no good. Instead he’s walked back into the limelight by stonewalling some minor goal scoring talents like Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Alex Semin, Daniel Alfredsson, and some guy the Bruins fans thanked during the last Leafs game. He’s employed the whirling dervish style that until Thomas ascended to a full time NHL player had been unseen since Hasek’s hayday. Its unconventional to say the least, uncomfortable for the weak of bladder (and brain) to watch, and has an elegance roughly equivalent to a demolition derby, but it is undeniably effective. Former college team mate Martin St Louis has said there is no book on Thomas and you just have to shoot well and hope for the best. If someone who’s known and played with and against Thomas for decades and who has had much better than average goal totals is convinced of Thomas’s quality, who are you to doubt it?

If today’s date were May fourth 2010 no one in the hockey world would doubt that the race for the Calder Trophy would come down to Taylor Hall vs Tyler Seguin with some token references to other players just to avoid the (deserved) impression of tunnel vision. But today is October fourth, and boy have our eyes been opened in the last six months. In the next few weeks hockey fans will discover what scribes, coaches, and players have been awakening to since training camp began; Not only may Hall or Seguin prove not to be the best rookie in the NHL, they may not prove to be the best rookies on their teams.

In Boston, Seguin has bounced between wing and center, landing in the third line center slot between Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler, two players who the Bruins and Bruins Nation can only hope recover from their substandard years last year. His faceoff winning percentage has been in the twenties and thirties, and he’s been consistently out muscled by other players. Until the demotion of Suave to Providence and the return of Spooner to his junior team, it would be hard to call Seguin the most impressive rookie in camp. In truth, I don’t think it’s reasonable to do so now, but it it much closer to the truth.

In Edmonton Hall has recently earned a grade that is less than average. David Staples, who pulls no punches and writes fairly, had this to say about Tyler Hall’s play during a recent tilt in the legendary “Battle of Alberta” :

Taylor Hall, 3. A poor game. Often stripped of the puck. Looking a bit tentative, not unexpected for a rook. Flashes of skill, but not effective in this game.

Hall helped create one good scoring chance and was a culprit on three scoring chances against the Oilers, -2 overall at even strength, a  poor score for a winger (I define a scoring chance as a hard shot from the slot, the same definition as Buffalo Sabres goalie coach Jim Corsi. I also break down the videotape to ascertain which players were involved in scoring chances for and against, and which players were not. Only those who made a significant contribution to the chance get a plus mark, and only the culprits get a minus.).

Which is not quite the endorsement that one might expect for the man expected to be the savior of the franchise, the second coming of Gretzky & Howe in one, and probably solve global climate change and the worldwide economic slow down all before the All Star game.

Fortunately for hockey fans on both ends of the continent, there is still hope for bringing home the Calder. David Staples makes mention of another left winger recently drafted by the Oilers, and Bruins fans have been warming towards a right winger since prospect camp opened. The son of Sayabec, Quebec Jordan Caron looks to have eclipsed both Joe Colborne, and Tyler Seguin going all the way from bubble player who was expected to toil in the AHL until a reason to recall him could be made to sliding straight onto a line with Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi. The coveted spot with the Olympic Gold Medalist and Future Hall of Famer was projected to be Seguin’s. In their tuneup match against the Belfast Giant’s Select team, Caron rode shotgun on the top line, Seguin was on the third. Further with a coach who as conservative and defensive as they come, Caron has earned penalty kill time right and left in his appearances, and enjoyed some powerplay time. Seguin has rode the so far ineffectual power-play only.

Edmonton will likely see Paajarvi overshadow Hall before years end. In the same game in which the better known draftee was given a humbling grade of three, Paajarvi earned himself a game score more than twice as high. During their recent collision with fellow bottom feeding Tampa Bay, Paajarvi earned himself four points with a short handed goal in the mix while going plus two, Hall was limited to one goal and an even plus/minus.

While you will undoubtedly be treated to a sea of Hall vs Seguin headlines and articles this year, just as we all were early this year and right up until the NHL entry draft, it looks like the more interesting story lines will be Caron vs Seguin and Paajarvi vs Hall.

With very few changes in the roster, the Bruins opening night lineup is pretty easy to nail down. For the sake of discussion the guys in bold are going to be playing unless injured. The guys in italics are the guys on the bubble who have camp to prove they deserve the spot and the guys underlined are the most likely trade candidates.

Milan Lucic – Marc Savard – Nathan Horton

Tyler Seguin – Patrice Bergeron – Mark Recchi

Blake Wheeler – David Krejci – Michael Ryder

Daniel Paille – Greg Campbell – Shawn Thornton

Zdeno Chara – Denis Siedenberg

Mark Stuart – Johnny Boychuck

Andrew FerenceMatt Hunwick

The bubble players are where I expect to see the most interesting battles. For forwards its almost a given that Brad Marchand will be held in Boston very late, and may even make the roster. Jeremy Reich is another guy who could be that thirteenth forward quite easily, he’s a veteran with a lot of leadership abilities and no one questions his toughness or willingness to put himself on the line for the team. Jordan Caron, Maxime Suave, Joe Colborne are probably the three who will push hardest for Michael Ryder’s roster spot. The Bruin are in need of an offensive renaissance and if Ryder doesn’t come out of the gate firing on all cylinders he may find himself on the injured reserve or assigned to Providence in favor of one of these youngsters. Not to be forgotten is the seventh or potentially sixth defense spot if Ference or Hunwick are found lacking or sent elsewhere.  McQuaid has the inside line, but Alexandrov is quite likely to push hard as well. Delahey has similar size and physicality.

The next tier of players is even more intriguing. As high as Caron and Colborne were drafted no one would find it a huge surprise if one of them snatched a roster spot from a veterans hands. Despite his off seasons surgery, Suave was one of the very last players sent packing from Bruins camp last fall and has a wicked shot, so even he wouldn’t be a huge shock. Jamie Arniel, Jared Knight, Yannick Rinedeau, Jeff Penner and Zach Hamill all have various things to prove. Hamill’s whole NHL career probably comes down to this camp. He was drafted in the first round of a truly weak draft class in 2007, he’s proved to be slightly less unspectacular than most of his year mates. That draft has to date produced only six players who have played more than 100 NHL games, the 2008 draft has produced five. Hamill has to jump over guys who are bigger, more physical and already have Julien’s trust and respect and I’m not sure he’s going to do that while at the same time going around Caron, Colborne and the rest in the first tier of prospects. If he can’t make the roster, he may want to ask for a trade anywhere he’ll be on the roster.  Jared Knight has to prove he can translate the skills that make this jaw dropping highlight reel to the NHL level and handle the physical play and speed of full grown men.

Arniel’s proved at least to me that the issues that marred his draft year are behind him, now he needs to bury all thought of his being among the players most responsible for last years pathetic AHL Bruins campaign. He’s got the disadvantage of having a few injuries, and a small frame but I think I like his chances better than Hamill’s as he’s got a bit more of an edge.  Yannick Rinedeau lit up Juniors in his final season like he was firebombing them, a series of injuries and the move to the pro-ranks have left his reputation in need of the polish that only a breakout effort in camp and a good early season can provide.  Jeff Penner faces two problems in cracking the lineup, first is a severe shortness of NHL time on a team that lives or dies by its defense, and second is his small size.  With Ference and Hunwick not even close to two hundred pounds, adding the 183lb Penner to the roster in a conference that has Kovalchuck, Ovechkin, Staal, and other large aggressive forwards might be a liability the Bruins can’t afford. Among the positives are good speed, willingness to take a hit, and having made good on his limited playing time in the NHL. In his first NHL game, Penner faced the star studded Washington Capitals and was tossed all the way into the deep end with almost nineteen minutes of playing time.  Particularly telling was his two minutes of penalty kill time, and the fact that he played several shifts with the dealt and unlamented Denis Wideman.

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.

One of the latest rumors of where Marc Savard and Tim Thomas might end up is well Inane. Really. Both guys have no trade clauses, neither wants to leave the hub, and both are nearing the end of their careers. Neither has yet lifted the Cup, nor even played in a Stanley Cup Final series. Both have had to battle for respect, both are top shelf players.

While I think the Islanders are no more than three seasons from being ready for a good playoff run, they have too many weaknesses to be a viable destination for two guys hungry to drink from the Cup that Gretzky, Hasek, Bourque, Orr, Lafluer, Roy, and other giants of the sport have to take a step backwards.

Tavares is hugely talented and no one with the wit to recall that ice is cold can say otherwise. Moulson is a solid offensive threat. Streit is probably the most underrated defenseman in the NHL and they’ve drafted some impressive talent in the last two or three season, which is what happens when you finish in the lottery for years running. Nino Niedderreitter, Kyrill Kabanov, Kirill Petrov,  Travis Hamonic, Brock Nelson, and Calvin de Haan can’t help but improve the team. No doubt the Islanders management will snag a few of the right free agents to fill in the holes.

All that said, the reasons against going to the Islanders for both players are huge.  The Atlantic division may just be the toughest division in the NHL next year. The Penguins, Flyers and Devils are all dangerous, skilled and good at winning games. The Rangers have both King Henrik and Gaborik, with Del Zotto, Girardi and company in between and are all quite effective.

If either one were going to waive their NTC, it would be to go to a team with a lot of potential, and probably closer to their home towns. Thomas being from Michigan, and Savard from the Ottawa area leave the likelihood of the Islanders quite low. On top of that the Islanders had horribly low attendance percentage even without taking into consideration the small, broken down arena and low percentage of seats sold. The Town of Hampstead hasn’t shown itself to be a great friend of the ownerships plans to replace the oldest arena in the NHL either.

Entering last season as the Bruins ironman Mark Stuart was poised for a breakout season. The previous spring he’d been the best defenseman on the ice in the Boston-Carolina series. He’s always brought his desire to win, his focus and his ferocity. Not known as a goal scorer he is shut down defensive force who is fairly similar to the Flyers Brayden Coburn.

During the first month of the season he was a +2 with three points as the Bruins mostly spun the wheels. Later in the season he would break his sternum early in a game, and continue playing while dishing out more hits. Later after delivering a clean, devastating hit

on Anze Kopitar, is forced to defend himself against a visored Wayne Simmonds, breaking his hand in the process.

This same hand would come back to haunt him later taking a second month out of his schedule and limiting the big, physical bruiser who has been dubbed “the Caveman” for his strength, to just four games against the Flyers.

Having been resigned to a one year contract that will leave him an unrestricted I have to wonder how much he really desires to play here in the future. Andrew Ference who has only once played a complete NHL season and was a veteran when he arrived in the middle of the 2006-07 season, has played less games in that time than Stuart who was rookie and broke in that year. Ference in his time with the Bruins is a -16, and managed just three goals in that time, is somehow being paid half a million more. Stuart in that time has been a +29 with only his rookies year, in which he played 17 games being a minus year with a -1. Stuart also has 12 goals in that time.

To all appearances, a +/- differential of 45, three times the amount of NHL goals scored, and sixty nine more games played across five years is good for a $575,000 surcharge on your salary. Also of note is that the game differential is more games than Ference has managed to acquire in any one season with the Bruins and is more games than he’s played for any team in all but three seasons stretching back to his rookie year in 99-00.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Brayden Coburn a draft year mate of Stuart just reupped with the Flyers. Coburn is very comparable to Stuart with a touch more offense but less grit, and both play behind one of the best defensemen in the NHL. Coburn’s two year deal is for $3.2 million per season on an equally cap strapped team. Coburn now in his second NHL organization is a career +15.

I’m afraid it might just be time for this:

Thomas:
5) He’s a freaking Vezina winner stupid.

4) Despite at least two injuries Thomas had the same number of shutouts in eleven less games than the year he won the Vezina.

3) Thomas put up better post season numbers behind a poorer defensive unit than Rask did in the teams last two playoff appearances. And unlike Rask his post season numbers were better than his regular season ones.

2) If the Bruins management is really desperate to free up cap space and have (wisely) ruled out buyouts, they should assign Ryder to Providence immediately and plan to promote a youngster or sign a UFA.

1) As young goalies like Price, Raycroft and Mason have proven a good rookie (half)season by a goalie is highly indicative of future success.

Savard:

5) Because short of rapists, and true locker room cancers one should love the elite play even if you hate the player.

4) Even if Seguin or Hall (or Colbourne or Caron or…) is the second coming, they are unlikely to have the endurance to play at a high level come April, May and June.

3) Let’s see, he’s one of the most productive players in the post lockout era. He’s even done it with bad linemates.

2) If the Bruins management is really desperate to free up cap space and have (wisely) ruled out buyouts, they should assign Ryder to Providence immediately and plan to promote a youngster or sign a UFA.

1) Players as productive as Savard in any sport sell tickets, sell merchandise, sell jerseys, and in some cases even sell hockey to people who otherwise might not give a damn.

5 Quick reasons each why Savard or Thomas should go

Savard:

5) Cap Space. Honestly, unless Suave, Colborne or the like are showing more promise than even their biggest boosters think, this is a silly reason. About the only UFA forward still out there that could potentially be signed for 4 million a year and be worth it is Alexander Frolov, Tanguay and Nolan might be worth it but either would be happy with a $2.75 mil deal based on their age, the chance for success and their last year.

4) With Hall or Seguin coming in on top of Bergeron, Krejci, Sobotka, Colborne, Caron, Hamill, Campbell, Arniel, Goggin, Nelson, Riendeau, Soderberg, Tremblay, and Whitfield (not to mention whoever they draft) it might be argued that the Bruins have a number of men who can play center. True, at this point after Bergeron and Krejci the rest are either unproven or proven borderline in the NHL, but no team has absurd depth at all positions, and several of the men after the first two could hold down the third and arguably the second center slot on over half the teams in the NHL.

3) For all his amazing talents, Savard is not a very athletic player. With the generally younger team the front office has constructed in the last two off season, he’s become one of the slower men on the ice, and is possibly the least physically fit. As Mike Richards and other members of the Flyers proved a couple weeks ago, conditioning wins championships.

2)  The potential return is enormous. With his cap friendly deal, his consistent point production, and his recent transition into a three zone, two way player who is savvy in all situations, its not outside question to bring back a pair of first round draft picks or a fist full of prospects. Trading him to say Columbus even without a roster player coming back might yield former #6 pick Nikita Filatov, and former #21 John Moore.

1) It’s possible management doesn’t like him.

Thomas

5) Rask had an amazing season. Clearly the younger, cheaper goalie is the way to go.

4) Thomas’s contract is too long. At his age a three year deal would have made much more sense, and as his hip injury proves, he’s not holding up well.

3) The team is more comfortable playing in front of a goalie with a slightly less bizarre style.

2) Thomas will cause problems as a back up. Of all the reasons I’ve heard, or pondered for moving the former Vezina winner this is the most absurd. He had at least two injuries last year and still managed better numbers than most goalies, that said it is theoretically possible.

1) The potential to move him for a good return in picks or prospects is too big to resist.