I’m hardly discounting the rest of the season, but with the draft combine here and now, I can’t go another day without posting something.

At forward for the Bruins only Recchi and Ryder are unsigned unrestricted free agents.  Brad Marchand is an RFA, and as this is his entry contract and he’s played just one full year the Bruins have all the leverage.

Top forward prospects, in no particular order include:

  • Max Suave who’s fast, has hands that will make any goal scoring aficionado drool, and a long injury history.  At 6’2 and 184 he’s a bit wiry. This is if not his last year to make the club certainly the year he needs to hit 30 goals or 65+ points in Providence and stay healthy.
  • Jordan Caron, in essence he only has to do two things at camp next year a: bring his A game, b: remain consistent. He made the team out of camp this year, got second line minute, and penalty kill time under our fairly conservative coach. Of all the top six potential forwards he’s the only one listed over 200lbs, by the Bruins.
  • Jamie Arniel, after a day at rookie camp and watching the second of the rookie games at the Boston Garden last fall, I predicted he’d be the first Providence Bruin called up and he proved me right. Remorseless work ethic, was the leading scorer in Providence last year topping the charts with 27 goals and 50 points. This is the final year of his entry contract. While most projections list him as bottom six forward in the NHL systems vary and Juliens could favor him if he brings full effort. 5’11 193.
  • Ryan Spooner, pure fun to watch. Amazing puck disher I heard comparisons to Marc Savard like passing at rookie camp and the rookie game. One ace he may have up his sleeve is faceoff performance, which goes well with a solid shot and great vision. He did spend the year in Juniors where he set a point per game pace for two different teams, and in the playoffs. Not exactly imposing, at 5 10 17o. Finished the year with the P-Bruins.
  • Jared Knight won three awards among them hardest working player on his team this year. He also lead his team in scoring. Having added enough mass to top 200lbs, his relentless drives for the goal scoring areas are likely to be harder to stop this year than last. If you haven’t seen the goal scoring highlight reel on Youtube, go look. Like Spooner he finished off his playing year in Providence collecting a pair of assists.

What the Bruins lack in general is the aggressive, physical power forward type that has been key to the success of the team in the bodies of Horton and Lucic this year.  Bergeron, Seguin, Krejci and Marchand are hugely talented but none of them tops two hundred lbs and adding a little more size to some of the teams speed could make them even better.

Defense is honestly the position I find the Bruins depth thinnest at. Kaberle and Hnidy are the expiring contracts, and I expect to see Kaberle resigned for at least a year or two unless he unexpectedly retires. Steve Kampfer is likely graduated to full time duty and then we get the true prospects.

  • Yury Alexandrov is a Russian prospect with a couple years experience in the KHL. He was second in scoring for defensemen on the lackluster Providence Bruins last season. Fairly small, but smooth skating. Spoke no English when arriving last year. Had a better +/- at -6 than the leading scorer for defensemen on the P-Bruins last year.  Hockey’s future lists him as a potential 5-6 man at the NHL level.
  • Ryan Button, freshly signed to his entry level deal he’s listed just above Alexandrov on Hockeysfuture.com, the is another smaller defensemen projected towards the middle or end of the depth chart. Well respected in various circles for work ethic. Played the final seven games of the Providence series.
  • Matt Bartkowski, was called up for six games, including the Montreal game in which Chara was ejected for the hit on Pacioretty where he saw over 13 minutes of ice time. In six games he was a -1, with no points. This probably doesn’t reflect on him. His latest callup was during a funk in Boston that saw losses to half the leagues bottom feeders. Was the last cut at training camp. Could be called a smaller Boycjuck.
  • David Worsofsky, college player very small, agile picked up 3 assists in 10 games with Providence last year. Unlikely to see the NHL this year. Almost purely an offensive defensemen. Pro-comparison would put him in a similar mold to Marc-Andre Bergeron.
  • Colby Cohen, picked up in exchange for Matt Hunwick he’s billed as an offensive defensemen with passable ability in his own zone, was one of the few players and the only defensemen to finish the season in Providence with a positive +/- at +5. Projects as another 4-6 guy. Played three games in an Avalanche uniform before being traded.

These are the best of the guys signed for next year. None of whom projects to the type of number two or number three defenseman who can run a powerplay and or lead the defense if Chara is injured, suspended or in the penalty box.

Goaltending, while Tim Thomas does impressive things in net on a regular basis, and Rask has had an admirable career so far, that is about all that can be said for the Bruins goaltending. Khudobin is a UFA and will likely get an NHL or KHL contract of some sort next year, Schaefer is not a viable choice, and Zane Gotheberg is going the college route so he’s unlikely to be seen for three or more years.

  • Michael Hutchinson played just 28 games in Providence this year, allowed five goals in four of those occasions one of which was a win, had one shut out. In Reading of the ECHL he had better numbers than in Providence. It’s hard to tell how much is the the problem of the first year pro, and how much was just an underwhelming Providence club.

That’s it, after Rask and Thomas there is one goalie signed for next season to fill two Providence slots, two Reading slots and cover for injuries at all three levels.

Draft Wishlist:

  1. Strong top three defenseman.
  2. Goaltending depth, even if these pieces are dealt later.
  3. Power forward.

 

I’ve been hard at work culling this list of suggestions from the thousands rolling around on Twitter today. Please not as this isn’t a scientific poll you may have seen different names.

10: Winnipeg Claim Jumpers

9: Manitoba Moose (apparently they expect interchangeable quality with the AHL franchise of the same name.)

8:  Canadian Carpetbaggers

7: Atlanta Spirit Gift

6: Seattle’s Future Team

5: Mrs Pronger’s New Least Favorite Market

4: Manitoba Free Agent-less

3: Jets (a name even the old owner didn’t like)

2: Here ’til the Looney Goes Down

1: Vultures

By this time anyone who needs to be told the Boston Bruin and Vancouver Canucks are gearing up to go after the Stanley Cup probably hasn’t been out of a coma more than twenty five minutes anywhere in the hockey universe. The question of which of these two long parched teams is going to drink from the most storied trophy in the world is one that has set up a near world of angst just over which team is facing the most pressure.

We’ll take a look at a few simple ways to do this, but first a base line comparison.

The Vancouver Canucks, which has a metropolitan area that is the third largest in Canada has no other major sports teams aside from the BC Lions of the CFL. The NBA absconded for Memphis, Tennessee (half the population). Much of Canada has at least temporarily shifted alliances to root for “the home team”.

The Boston Bruins are competing with the Red Sox who are on a torrid pace and in first place, the Boston Celtics who have won more championships than any NBA franchise, and of course the New England Patriots who won three Superbowls in short order for market share. Boston is slightly larger metro area but isn’t even size of Toronto.

So, going off two of the most popular social networks on the planet: Twitter & Facebook for followers we get:

@NHLBruins:  54,555 followers as of 12:36 am May 31st

@VanCanucks: 117,475 followers as of 12:40 am May31st

Bruins Official Facebook page: 714,530

Canucks Official Facebook page:  462,024

If you ignore the fact there is some overlap, and assume each user on both social media is unique, you get 769085 Bruins fans, and 579499 Canucks fans. Quite the interesting numbers considering competing sports entertainment in the markets.

As I mentioned over at Inside Hockey the core groups on these two teams are a little different, as is the team balance. A few more posts will break down other portions of the teams.

Canucks:

Top Line: Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Alex Burrows (except when it’s Kesler) This is purely an offensive line. Burrows does what heavy defensive lifting this line does. Daniel Sedin is the shooter, Henrik is the setup man.  Burrows is also what physical presence this line has. With 26 hits in his 18  post season games Burrows is 8th on the team in hits, the twins have combined for 11.  Together the line is a -4, all three see heavy powerplay time with the brothers Sedin ranking one and two. Henrik Sedin won the Hart last year, Daniel is likely to have one for his very own this year.

2nd Line:

Mason Raymond, Ryan Kesler, Chris Higgins this is as much a second offensive line as a checking line. Kesler who most will remember from his play for USA during the past Olympics is second on the team in points, tied for second in goals, leads all Vancouver forwards in TOI and is instrumental to the lineup in all situations. Raymond also gets a lot of PK time. This trio is a combined +12. With 118 hits between them this is a very different look from the first line.

3rd line:

Jannik Hansen, Maxim Lapierre, Raffi Torres, with a combined five goals in the playoffs its easy to overlook this line. Torres is the teams best know walker of the fine line between legal play and suspension worthy violations. Lapierre leads the team in post season penalty minutes, has four 10 minute misconducts to his credit, 1 diving, and 1 unsportsmanlike among the standout to his credit he’s also second for forwards on the team in blocked shots, and has an over 50% rating in the faceoff circle. Hansen was healthy enough to play all 82 regular season games, and each post season game with respectable minutes, and few penalties.

4th line and others:

Tanner Glass, Cody Hodgson, Victor Oreskovich, make up the 4th line as currently configured and average under eight minutes a game each. Combined they have about fifty hits, are a -11 and have one point.

Manny Malhotra is a faceoff guru with strong defensive skills who hasn’t played since March. He suffered an eye injury, and has just recently been cleared to practice and or play again depending on which source you are listening to. Vancouvers head coach has been coy on if he would play or not, and Vancouver and national media have speculated that if he does he would be matched up against the Bruins top line.

 

Bruins:

Top line:

Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Nathan Horton, with a heavy hitter with loose gloves on either wing a quick look at the regular season statistics page might convince you they were fourth line bangers. On the other hand, both Lucic and Horton have racked up thirty goal season in their careers, Lucic with his first this season, and Horton with his in 2005-6. David Krejci is the center, he is often very high or very low in production, but has either lead outright or tied for the Bruins points lead in the last two seasons. The three were together most of the season and own seven of the Bruins 12 game winning goals this post season. This line is a combined +24.

2nd Line:

Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Mark Recchi, while non of the three on this line is particularly large, they don’t appear to know it. With none of the three topping two hundred pounds they own three of the teams top six hit slots for forwards with Bergeron second only to Vancouver native Milan Lucic in hits. Bergeron is the playmaking, faceoff dominating center who is good in all three zones, owns a short handed goal this post season, and has a knack for unassisted goals. Marchand is a speedy pest with good hands, vision and looks nothing like a rookie. Mark Recchi is the NHL’s elderstatesman and the future hall of famer has a finely tuned sense of where to be and which way to lean. Not as fast as he was ten years ago, he still manages to make his time on the ice count. This line is a combined +19

3rd line:

Tyler Sequin, Chris Kelly, Michael Ryder. The teen sensation has only played seven of the post season games, but has applied lessons picked up all season to be effective. He had a four point period against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and possesses both breakaway speed and hard, accurate shot. Could be slightly more effective defensively. Michael Ryder has had his best post season in a Bruins uniform, he’s been physical at need, defensively sound, and has used his quick hands to score five goals, two were game winners. Kelly, is the steady defensive rudder at center on this line, plays tons of time short handed and generally one of those players who flies under the radar unless you follow his play closely. This line is a combined +15

4th line and others:

Rich Peverley, Greg Campbell, Daniel Paille make up the fourth line we’ve seen the last several games. Peverley and Paille own above average speed, and neither Paille or Campbell shy away from a hit, if it can be made without giving up defensive position. All three are among the top five penalty killing forwards and frequently on the ice to protect a lead in the waning moments. Peverley had been on the third line before an injury to Bergeron allowed Seguin back into the lineup, and will likely see time on other lines as forwards are rested, injured or penalized. This line is a combined +1

Shawn Thornton, resident beat cop and generally rides with Paille and Campbell, while more known for his work with his gloves off did rack up ten goals and ten assists this season. He was made the odd man out when Seguins ascension and Bergeron’s returned. Quietly important team leader.

 

Final comparison:

While the Canucks have the clear advantage on the powerplay, at even strength the advantage is muted or removed entirely. The Bruins come into this series with more goals scored (58 to 50), and quite a few more even strength goals, with the Bruins putting together 47 even strength goals and the Canucks just 30 the teams are even in four on four goals with one a side. Essentially the Canucks have higher scoring players, but the Bruins have more players scoring.

The Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks may only play once or twice a year in the regular season, but don’t think you won’t know some of the players suiting up for the other team.

Chris Higgins, former Canadiens winger turned vagabond has settled into a role with the Canucks that see’s him playing in all situations. Among other fond memories for Bruins fans will be his saying the Habs would win because “we’re faster” during the 2008-09 playoffs. The Bruins swept that series.

Maxim Lappiere, like his former Montreal running mate Higgins this isn’t his first stop since leaving Quebec. Anaheim was a short term stop before he was shoveled out the door at the deadline. Playing on three teams this season he stacked up an impressive six goals, 12 points 81 penalty minute -14 and an untallied triple digit number of dives.

Andrew Alberts. The former BC Eagle is one of the three or four hundred guys to have suited up for the the defense of the Vancouver Canucks. He got into the linueup forty two times in the regular season and three in the postseason.

Cory Schnieder, another former BC Eagle is has not played for the Bruins but is a Marblehead native who went to Phillips Andover accademy and has better numbers this year in both regular season and playoffs in GAA and Sv% than the starter that Chicago fans refer to as “Lolongo”. Maybe when Bobby Lou said Schnieder was just as good as he was it was an understatement?

Milan Lucic grew up in Vancouver British Columbia, and is treated like a rockstar when he returns in part because of The Shift and won the Memorial Cup MVP.

Future Hall of Famer Mark Recchi is from Kaloomps about three and half hours outside Vancouver according to the GPS, or maybe two hours forty five minutes for most of my fellow Massholes.

 

This is a feature that will run about every two weeks with improbable stats and situations in the National Hockey League.

A special post season edition of my favorite feature, If I told you in September:

  • Shane Hnidy and Andrew Alberts would both be on teams playing in the Stanley Cup Finals
  • Joe Thornton would be recognized as a having a great post season
  • going into the Stanley Cup Finals Tim Thomas would have the most post season three stars points
  • Brad Marchand would have the best season of all the Bruins prospects and rookies
  • the Nashville Predators would live to see the second round for the first time in team history
  • the San Jose Sharks would go further in the playoffs than the Detroit Red Wings
  • going into the Stanley Cup Finals that of the three series sweeps, the President Trophy winners would be involved in none of them.
  • David Krejci would notch more goals through three rounds than Daniel Sedin
  • of the two teams in the Stanley Cup Finals one would have three players in the top five for +/-, including one and two, and the other would have only one.
  • Joel Ward would emerge as a post season powerhouse for the Nashville Predators
  • The Washington Capitals, Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils, and Chicago BlackHawks would all fail to get to the Conference Finals
  • the Boston Bruins under Claude Juline would be in the Stanley Cup Finals
  • the Boston Bruins would be in the Stanley Cup finals and have scored more goals than their opponent in the second season
  • one of the two finalists would enter the series with their top five a combined -4 and the other a +36
  • the most hate mail I would get all day would be for insulting Clay Aikens butchering of the National Anthem

If I told you all these, or even any of these things in September would you have had me locked up?

Over the course of the last four years one thing has been constant in certain quarters. A small slice of the fans, the squeakiest and shrillest of the media, and often the most outrageous of bloggers have called for the head of Claude Julien on a platter. From the first he’s been derided as boring. He’s been called too rigid. He’s been lashed by the wagging tongue of various talk radio voices right left and center. He’s been called “too defensive” more times than anyone can count. But let’s take a look at some of those numbers.

Goals for rank:  Apparently two top five years in four is a sign of being overly conservative and too defensive minded. I did not know this and thank everyone for pointing it out to me.

Shorthanded goals: In all four of Claude Juliens years the penalty killers have been tied for or higher than fifteenth in the league. Yes, that means top half at scoring when you’re trying not to be scored upon. Very conservative.

Playoff appearances: Four of Four.

Points totals: 94, 116, 91, 103 = 101pt average.

Development of young players:

David Krejci has led the team in regular season scoring each of the last two years, and leads this years team in post season scoring.

Phil Kessel had a career high of 36 goals under Julien and has not equaled or exceeded that in two years time in Toronto despite getting about 30% more minutes per year.

Milan Lucic, thirty goal scorer.

Tyler Seguin, Young Stars selection,

Adam McQuaid pressbox to primetime player, was a +30 in the regular season, has peaked at over 19 minutes in the playoffs, was behind Chara and Seidenberg in total hits and blocked shots, despite only 67 games and was. Was 2nd among rookie defensemen in blocked shots and 4th among rookie defensemen in hits.

Brad Marchand, led all rookies and at one point the whole league in short handed goals, was fourth in regular season goals this season for the Bruins, and is third in goals scored in the post season.

Awards:

Two Northeast division titles, a Jack Adams award for best coach. A Jennings Award for best defensive team, one Vezina trophy win for best goalie, one Norris Trophy for best defensemen, an additional nomination for each of he latter two.

His bosses:

Julien was given a contract extension in the off season, owner Charlie Jacobs recognizes how the players respect him.

So for those key smashers and tongue waggers who have spent three and a half years wanting Julien fired, how about you pick on something else, he’s in a just short of invulnerable position for the next year or so.

This is short series of posts that together with the one I have written for InsideHockey about the cores of the two teams, will give the fans of all degrees and access to the teams a basic understanding of who is on the ice. I probably watched ten to twelve Vancouver regular season games and about as many post season games. For the Bruins, the regular season number is around seventy, and I did see all the post season games.

Team power matrix:

Vancouver: Fast moving, team with high end scoring talent, a goalie that is just starting to be recognized as a playoff producer, and a concentrated high end talent group with good role players. The defensive depth of this team is impressive, but has suffered various injuries

Boston: A hard working, physical team who excel when they stick to the system, scoring and defense have definite leader but the scoring burden is spread out over more shoulders and sticks than Vancouver.

Forwards:

Vancouver:  Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Daniel Sedin and Alex Borroughs lead the Vancouver Canucks in scoring. Together they have combined for ten powerplay goals this post season, the rest of the roster has seven.

Boston: David Krejci, Nathan Horton, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand are the points leaders and they have about 2/5ths of the teams post season powerplay goals.

Defense:

Vancouver: The Canucks defense is fueled off the time on ice leaders Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamuis, who have each averaged a bit under twenty six minutes a game. A solid workload, but not crushing. Bieksa is a +10 and Hamuis is a +5 with a bit less scoring to go with it. Behind them are Ehrhoff and Edler as the next two most important defensemen, the two have combined for more points than the nominal top defenders, but have been less reliable defensively speed plays a big part in both of their games.

Boston: Norris trophy winning, player voted toughest to play against, and largest man to ever play the game Zdeno Chara leads the Bruins defense. He uses both the four “s’s” (smarts, speed, stick, strength) to keep himself in the game at all times. Frequently paired with him is Denis Seidenberg who has exploded this post season into one of the stories media types and fans alike love, he’s actually averaging more minutes this post season than Chara. Behind these two the picture is a little less clear. Adam Mcquad has very quietly picked up more hits than Ference or Kaberle who play more minutes, without a single penalty. Johnny Boychuck has had the highest of highs with a game winning goal and the lowest of lows in game 6 vs Tampa Bay where he was on the ice for all five goals against (and two for). Andrew Ference is fourth in total time on ice, and is the fastest of blue liners to suit up this post season. Thomas Kaberle has had more than one shakey game since arriving just ahead of the trade deadline but seems to shaking down into place. Kaberle leads the blueline in powerplay time.

Goaltending:

Vancouver: Roberto Luongo is the starting goaltender for the Canucks, and has started all but one game this post season. He’s been chased twice in favor of backup Cory Schneider who started one game. In 18 games they have allowed 48 goals on 523 shots on goal. Luongo is a more traditional goaltender than his Bruins counterpart, but is is a bit more likely to move the puck and to drop his stick to make a save.

Regular season numbers: Luongo 60GP .928 sv% and 2.11 GAA, Schnieder: 25 GP, .929 sv% 2.29 GAA.

Boston: Tim Thomas spent played all 18 games of the Bruins post season allowing just 43 goals on 603 shots. Any goalie coach putting together videos of unorthodox goalies in the hockey world today will probably begin and end their video with Tim Thomas. Often criticized for his scambly, acrobatic style, he’s got one Vezina trophy to say it’s not a fluke, and a second one is likely to be awarded this summer to punctuate that statement.

Regular season numbers: Thomas 57  GP.938 sv% and 2.00 GAA.

First and foremost, to all the players, coaches, management and staff of the Tampa Bay Lightning, god damn what a team. No quit, no lack of heart and enormous skill and dedication this was perhaps the finest playoff series I’ve seen in my life.

For the Bruins organization, excellent work by the team and management to win another division title, and add the conference championship to it. I adore the effort, skill and composure of this team when they bring their “A” game.

Tonight’s game exemplified Boston Bruins Hockey. The Bruins dominated the face off circle, sacrificed the body individually and collectively to block shots and lay hits at a solid pace. The discipline was unblemished. The structure could have withstood an earthquake. And players made smart, and unexpected plays. The followed my storylines to the smallest dot, and did played with consummate composure.

The key play that produced the only goal of the night was a text book demonstration of one team doing it right, and the other doing it wrong. When the Bruins advanced the puck to the redline, the Lightning backed off. When the Bruins advanced the puck to the blueline and gained entry, the Lightning backed off. When Horton was rolling down the slot, despite both defensemen and a very speedy forward between him and Krejci, the Lightning backed off. The Lightning flat out allowed the goal. They should have take away space from Krejci, lifted or tied up Horton’s stick, and filled the passing lane. With three bodies, two of them quite large there were the players in place to do it, they simply lacked the instinct or training to do so.

It was also great to see Boychuck redeem himself with a superlative and quiet effort, he was rewarded by being on the ice for the only goal of the game.

Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins will square off for four wins and a life time of dreams.