Oh what an off season. The surprise firing of Brian Burke, the lack of contract for P.K. Subban which will no doubt fuel the “Subban to Boston” rumor mill, and Chris Bourque son of Hall of Famer Ray Bourque coming home to Boston.

Buffalo: This is Ryan Millers last change to prove his Vezina winning season wasn’t an aberration. Twenty five or twenty six wins out of thirty to thirty games would shut up all his critics. The rest of the team still has to help by doing little things like scoring goals and defending each other on a consistent basis, which will be harder without pivot Derek Roy, but Hodgson and Grigorenko are very capable of filling that hole.

Toronto: With Burke out, and Nonis in, every player and member of the coaching staff should consider this an extended audition. Goaltending is still a big question. Playing coherently as a team and not as a collection of individuals is still a complete unknown to this team. Getting it together will be a monumental, but hardly impossible task. They remain, as they have for over a decade, a work in progress.

Montreal: Last season was pretty much the perfect storm of a season. Everything that could go wrong did, sometimes twice. Injuries, coaching chaos, front office shenanigans, a divided locker room, and all under the benevolent eye of the Montreal hockey media. The good news for Habs fans is it would be nearly impossible to be that bad, that injured, that messed up and that chaotic two seasons in a row. American Galchenyuk and Armstrong of Saskatchewan bring new blood and loads of potential help to the team.

Ottawa: The Senators voted themselves into the playoffs last year and someone rewrote the definition of best defenseman so Karlsson could win, but last year they got in with a lot of help from Buffalo and Montreal who both filled their pants more often than they filled the net. The team itself likely isn’t worse than last year, but they will be playing against better competition.

Boston: While some area scribes think the whole season comes down to Rask for the Bruins, its not that simple. The Bruins have three defensemen they can rely on: Chara, Seidenberg, and Ference, and then bunches and bunches of questions. McQuaid has been steady when healthy, Boychuk is up and down, and the rest of the platoon aiming for the 4-7 slots all have big, big question marks. Warsovsky is not a gifted skater and by comparison even David Krejci is a hulking behemoth. Hamilton hasn’t played a single professional game, and was just a part of the Canadian meltdown at World Juniors. Aaron Johnson is now his sixth NHL stop (assuming he plays in the NHL here) at age 29, and has only crossed 50 games twice. Those are the best bets for those slots but anything can happen.

Top Dogs: Boston and Buffalo duke it out until the end, both Khudobin and Rask are capable of playing red hot for weeks, and the guys behind them are itching for them to fail.

While motivation has its place in the legion of defects that ended the Bruins problems, there is another one that needs to be addressed. On the physical axis the Bruins are neither uncatchably swift nor menacing and hulking. Just two of the forwards who started the year in the teams top six are over two hundred pounds. Shawn Thornton is the only returning regular who is also over that mark. By comparison the Washington Capitals have just three players on their entire playoff roster who are less than two hundred pounds. They use their size not just offensively to outhit the Bruins, but defensively to protect the puck.

The Bruins had to match David Krejci who is neither swift nor physical, not hulking or menacing (except maybe to a Flame turned Hab turned Flame), Benoit Pouliot who has skates that seem to be stuffed with flubber, and the increasingly game but alarmingly spare Tyler Seguin against much larger players every shift. Not one of these guys can be counted on to regularly win pucks along the wall or standup (or layout) opponents coming across the blueline.

The prospect pool doesn’t look any better. Most of the Providence roster will probably never be regulars on an NHL team. Josh Hennessy of the incredible 2003 draft was a nice thought and has some size. But Max Suave makes Krejci look obese, and has durability issues. Jamie Arniel took two steps back this year and is about as bulky as Krejci. Zach Hamill is certainly game enough, it remains to be seen if he can stick at the NHL level.

Chiarelli and Neely have not drafted much other than “small, skilled forwards”. The team desperately needs another power forward. The attitude is a heavy burden to carry for one or two top six forwards for 82 games, the preseason and however much of the post season a team managers. Assuming the clock has really expired on this version of the San Jose Sharks, a perfect acquisition regardless of if Horton recovers or not is Ryane Clowe. He’s got one year left on his contract, he’s big, he’s hungry for success, and its not possible to be informed and doubt his heart. Twenty three fighting majors in the past two seasons says he’s not gonna back down easy, two hundred and sixty hits and 42 goals mean he’s constantly involved.  David Jones is another who fits the bill. And I’ll renew my plea for Chris Stewart’s addition, I think being added as a regular to a team with a bit more belligerence than the Blues, and hypothetically penciling him on Bergeron’s right next season with Marchand returning on the left gives a physicality, speed and skill to both top lines.

Physical players like Milan Lucic certainly need to contribute more contact and more on the score board. It is however the responsibility of coaching and management to make sure these heavy bodies are well rested in the last week of the season so that they can enter the playoffs ready to be impact players. It is the responsibility of the players to be fit, and to make sure they are both rested and motivated. More than a few players are guilty of two or more failings on that list.

The front office tried to get by on reputation this season. So far no signs point to them changing that stance. The presumption both Adam McQuaid and Nathan Horton will be healthy to start the season has a striking resemblance to the inertia that saw them expecting a full recovery for Marc Savard. The draft, trades and free agency should all be at the least explored to find more physical players who can play.

The season is over. In the wake of a hard fought series against a team that had the Bruins number all season, it’s hard to see how anyone can be devastated. This isn’t the loss to the Flyers after going up three games to none. It’s not a loss to a truly hated team like the Canadiens. It isn’t even loss where there was a complete breakdown and most of the team didn’t show up like in the last playoff tilt against the Carolina Hurricanes.

The top players could have been better. Marchand had one impact game. Krejci as was the case all season showed up when he wanted too. Lucic was limited in impact. But as a whole the top six were not effective, and the defense was lacking in consistent physicality. Denying that Adam McQuaid is both more physical than Corvo, Mottau or Zanon is just silly. He’s also better equipped to deal with hits and drives of the large aggressive forwards of the Capitals.

For that matter, as much as the top nine forwards tried, only Lucic is over 200lbs and aggressive. Rolston is listed at 215lbs but not exactly going to make anyone cower in fear, Jordan Caron is 202lbs and has a bit too much puppy bounce to scare anyone. That’s it for 200lb plus forwards other than Shawn Thornton on the entire roster. The Capitals on the other hand had only two forwards and one defenseman on the whole roster listed below the 200lb mark.

In goal, the series saw Tim Thomas allow one less goal than last years first round series against the Montreal Canadiens. He turned in a more than reasonable 2.23Sv% and 2.14GAA. The issue was at the other end of the ice where shots on goal came from the blueline or the wall. The powerplay was again a wasted two minutes. Only two players had more than one goal. The Bruins, and likely no NHL will ever go anywhere when the top two scorers in a playoff round are Rich Peverley and Andrew Ference. The two are good soldiers, but they should not be leading the army.

Was uneven and curious officiating an issue? Yes. There were calls that should cost people jobs. They were about even in which team they put at a disadvantage, but the Bruins powerplay was worthless and they didn’t capitalize on the chances to put the puck in the net, on the ice at least, it comes down to the teams failure to execute.

The second of two parts. The first is here.

What’s wrong with the Bruins defense?

Chara, Ference, Seidenberg, Boychuk, McQuaid, Corvo have as a unit sucked ass not played to their potential of late. The most telling is Chara who has not only made poor decisions but been knocked down more often than Steve Rogers before he gets zapped and juiced into Captain America. He’s not skating well, he’s not shooting well, he’s not thinking well, and well you do the math. The rest of the defense, and much of their team plays to a similar level as their captain. He honestly looks nearly as sick as he did when he was held out of the Montreal series last spring.

Ference had his injury we all hope isn’t a return to the bad old days of the hobbled by a hinky groin Captain Planet. McQuaid and Seidenberg who are generally quite reliable defensively have just been off lately in a way that’s hard to nail down, it could be exhaustion, frustration or disgust, the shifts the two played together the other day made them significantly less than the sum of their parts. Boychuk has finally found his offensive gear again, but is also getting battered physically and not doing the battering.

Corvo for all that he often plays like a second pairing AHL guy has had several games where he looked like a legitimate NHL defensemen lately. Which is problematic in that it means much like another defenseman I could name you never know what you’re going to get from him.

As a group they are showing up and displaying the worst of their habits, they dally, shirk and shuffle across the ice without purpose or volition. It doesn’t take a hockey genius to know this is not a winning formula.

What’s wrong with the Bruins goaltending?

As a pair, I think the biggest issue is they have lost confidence in the team in front of them. Particularly the dallyfense. No ones hitting guys in or around the crease, no ones crushing anyone along the boards. guys aren’t getting chased down in the slot for the puck. Despite their faults, both have superb save percentages this year and say what you want neither of these two is responsible for the teams issues.

Rask: I don’t think that his knee was at 100% to start the season, and I’d lay money there was soreness a couple times during the year. Before the injury he’d lost six straight games. That isn’t normal for any good goalie. Whether you believe he’s “the goalie of the future and elite” or “an above average backup and second teir #1″ six in a row is a bad thing, and you can’t blame him for most of it.

Thomas: Fatigue is part of the problem here. With last seasons games, the cup run and now this season, he’s played about as much action as many goalies will see in three seasons in just the last eighteen months. A bigger part is not getting into a rhythm. As a rule Thomas has played his best hockey in the regular season going seven out of ten or more. With the management choice to play Rask more, this hasn’t happened often.

What’s wrong with the Bruins as a whole?

There are three major issues with this team as group:

1: Injuries both those keeping people out, and those lowering performance theres a lot of downed talent. Of all the guys who missed the last game, or went out and didn’t finish the last game they have $18,332,143 in this cap space out of action. To put that in perspective, the three stars of the week 1: Ilya Kovalchuk, 2: Ilya Bryzgalov and 3: Jaroslav Halak have a combined cap hit of $16,083,334, meaning you could add them and still not equal the whole in the roster.

2: Fatigue. It’s true for the goalies, and just as true for the skates. The last game was a perfect example of why. Chara took at least two big hits per shift, as did Boychuk. Marchand gets leaned on, grabbed and shoved on a regular basis, Lucic as well. Add in the stress of knowing the team isn’t as deep as it should be due to other injuries and you’ve got enough to slow anyone down.

3: A certain us against the world fatalism. The suspensions to Bruins players for plays identical to or worse than their own contribute to a strong and justifiable belief that nothing is going to happen to anyone who crosses the line against them and that they will be punished out of proportion to their own actions. If you think the Marchand hit was suspendable, that’s fine. But in the same week, the same department handed out a shorter suspension for a blatant head shot.

No matter what danger a hit to the leg might cause to someones career it in no way exceeds a flagrant attempt to decapitate someone. Add in the Ference suspension, and then the fact that there weren’t even hearings for the hit by Sestito that may have ended Horton’s career, and the hit by Malkin that left Boychuk reeling to the list. Confusion is the most charitable thing the nicest of the Bruins has to be feeling, but given the level of assertiveness on this team disgust is probably a bit more common and hadly the most warm and cuddly. Whichever emotions they are, they all have a physical cause to maintain.

 What’s wrong with the Bruins Coaching?

If you think a team that’s seen one third of the opening night roster off the ice for a quarter of the ice has a problem with coaching you need better drugs. When the teams speed is pulled out from under it, when the unit that it draws it’s identity from, it’s defense, is both damaged and saddled with at least one sub-professional player that is not a coaching issue. Line changes have been proactive, defensive pairs have been tried, but no coach can make players healthier or more skilled.

The Eastern Conference is clearly the stronger of the two this season, and with five teams that have a legitimate shot at the Conference Finals if they stay healthy, one hellacious dog fight is brewing.

1: New York Rangers vs  #8 Washington Capitals

Two weeks ago if you had to project this matchup you’d have called it a stomping by the Rangers and moved on. Today, with the Rangers on a two game losing streak, you have one cause for concern. The Washington Capitals under one of the winningest coaches in OHL history are starting to play both resiliently and happily. Just as a rule of thumb, when Alex Ovechkin has a grin on his face half the night, the opponents are in trouble. It’s unlikely this would be a four game series, and it likely takes six, defense being the biggest difference. The Rangers have a more talented blueline with Girardi leading the way, backed by Del Zotto, McDonagh, and the still recovering Staal they have a level of defensive talent few teams will match. Rangers in 6.

2: Boston Bruins vs #7 Ottawa Senators

This has always been the most respectful rivalry in the Northeast  Division. Most fans of both teams will at least admit the others are human, and the other team isn’t composed entirely of goons and divers. That’s so boring. Fortunately with accidental kneeing my Adam McQuaid early in the year, the Senator climb up the standings, and Chris Neil being Chris Neil, the teams are getting a little tetchy at each other. Ben Bishop being brought in becomes the X factor having won his first two games as a member of the Senators, and playing a very different game from the injured Anderson or journeyman Auld. He could prove an equalizer, or not. On the year the Senators one win was a 1-0 affair, the other four game Boston won and outscored them 19-11.  Boston in 5

3: Florida Panthers vs #6 New Jersey Devils

The Panthers may get home ice, but the Devils are the better team. As long as Broduer plays well and Kovalchuk is healthy they have a good shot at beating anyone. The Panthers are hoping to get and stay healthy soon, their list of injuries has been as long as their summer free agent shopping spree. Broduer’s GAA has dropped each of the last three months, his Sv% has risen, right now he far more resembles the game changer of five years ago than anytime in the past three seasons. Also among the rejuvenated is Brian Campbell of the Panthers, the slick skating, smooth passing defenseman has eclipsed his points total for his last two seasons with the BlackHawks rather easily. The season series was split two to two with each winning and losing a one and a two goal game. Devils in 7

#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs #5 Philadelphia Flyers

The Keystone State would get to see one of the best first round matchups of the year. Of all the potential parings this is the most likely to happen. Even with home ice advantage the Penguins would enjoy only a slim advantage as the Flyers have had an exceptional road year. Injuries and who is not on the ice are the story of this series. With nearly a full roster in the shop between the teams, it could make for some very ugly hockey. The defense of the Flyers was suspect with Meszaros and Timonen, without them it could be ugly. Both goalies have warmed up of late. While Malkin is more than a handful, he’s been off the ridiculous pace he set for so many weeks. Penguins in 6

The Bruins are in a decent position in the standings. They do have injuries to two key forwards and have shown little ability to replace them internally. It’s likely that Peter and Cam will want to add without subtracting again (even if that is unlikely) so I don’t expect anything huge. Here’s a look at some of the players and prospects who might attract some attention or who fans might be worried could be moved:

Negative move potential:

  • Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic, Tim Thomas. These four are the magic smoke in the machine and without them the team does nothing, and goes no where. It isn’t that there aren’t teams with the assets on paper to buy one of them it is that they have more value to the Bruins because of who they are than any even moderately insane return could provide.

Very low:

  • Tuukka Rask, Brad Marchand, Dougie Hamilton, Jared Knight, Dennis Seidenberg. Either for today and the playoff run or the future these are key pieces. None is quite irreplaceable but the return would have to be unequivocally in the Bruins favor and have an immediate and long term impact.

Low 1

  • Ryan Spooner, Alex Khoklachev, Chris Kelly, Adam McQuaid, Tyler Seguin, Andrew Ference. This group is all players the Bruins would like or very much like to keep, but who have enough value without being completely indispensable either because of depth at that position, contract status or time on ice for the team.

Low 2

  • Johnny Boychuk, Daniel Paille, Shawn Thornton, Tommy Cross. The first three have value to the Bruins, and while other teams might want them none is likely to be the center of a trade. Cross is in the end of his senior season in college and the Bruins have invested a lot in the local guy and have to be expecting some return on it next season either in Providence or with the big club.

Medium

  • David Krejci, 1st round pick this year, Jordan Caron, Justin Florek, Krejci has been moved from center to wing lately and appears to have come alive, a first round pick this year if the team plays well will be somewhere in the 20+ range so a player who could he had for another year is a reasonable return, Caron probably doesn’t fit the Bruins system despite some flashes of high potential and good hockey sense. Justin Florek is having a good senior season at Northern Michigan University, and owns more than enough potential to be a key component in a trade for a team retooling.

If the Bruins do make a move, anyone expecting a blockbuster move will be sorely disappointed. From the pieces already taken off the market by trade or new contracts there is a chance they don’t make any trades at all. If they do make a trade look for guys who are going to play second or third line roles for forwards, or 3-6 rang defensemen. I wouldn’t even be surprised to see a retread come through the door.

The Boston Bruins need a tweak or two. That’s undeniable what they don’t need is a large scale or large salary swap out. Injecting the wrong player, or removing one who is a key contributor is counter productive. It amounts to pouring sugar in the gas tank in the final smoke test before a race.

So who are the key components? In any order you care to put them the core of personality, ability and on ice impact are: Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron, and Tim Thomas. Each of these four is a huge part of the teams identity.

Bergeron is the every thing man on the team. He hits, he blocks shots, he scores he makes passes and plays in all three zones and all situations. Zdeno Chara is the Zeus upon Olympus tossing down titans and defending what’s his in a way no one else can. Tim Thomas is an emotional catalyst, an elite goaltender and capable of stealing games and series. Milan Lucic is a monster, when he’s got his legs he’s the heartbeat of the team. His physicality spreads up and down the line up.

Each of these guys would be very difficult to replace with any other single player. Bergeron for Toews is passable, but the Blackhawks wouldn’t part with their captain, and the trade improves neither team significantly. A Lucic for Perry trade would be a similar level of physicality, and an offensive upgrade but complicates the already neck deep center position and greatly weakens the Bruins left wing.

Rick Nash is a goal scoring forward who’s having a down year, and also has a huge contract. He’s not especially physical, so flipping him for Lucic means a loss in one category for a noticeable but not really needed upgrade in another. Swapping him for Krejci probably means you end up with a line with not enough pucks to go around unless you’re looking at Lucic left with Nash sliding to center and a role player at right wing, much as say Byron Bitz is filling with the Sedins.

When a team has an identity, and success changing it’s core or threatening it’s identity is not how you make it better. The teams in the NHL that don’t have an identity aren’t very successful. The Montreal Canadiens this year are to put it kindly, in flux and need to figure out a recipe for success and hold on to it. Similarly the Washington Capitals have no unified identity and most of the best known players play like individuals. Trades for a team that has held the first spot in their division for most of the season, have some good prospects in juniors college should be players that compliment or enhance who the team already is, not radically change it.

Assuming the Bruins are adding a forward, it should be someone with a bit of snarl to their game, reasonably similar ability to Horton and good size. Ideally they would develop similar chemistry to Lucic and Horton, but other pairings are possible. In the unlikely event they developed a bromance that rivaled Jared Knight (@JKnight97) and Ryan Spooner (@RSpooner2376) so much the better, having more than one player you sync with on the ice never hurt a team. A defenseman is probably needed as much as a forward for depth. Since a certain Bean Pot champions captain is unlikely to be available, they need someone who can come in like Adam McQuaid and push other players to be better. For my money guys on expiring deals, or reasonable deals with one year remaining make a whole not more sense than big name guys.

The Bruins escaped their visit from the Columbus Blue Jackets with two points and that’s about all that can be said for the home team in front of the crease. Tuukka Rask made the most of his appearance and gave the Bruins a chance to…not lose badly. Curtis Sanford as the other end of the ice was impressive. Good rebound control, good positioning, and some good luck. I think it’s safe to say that two more starts by Sanford of that quality will make the call to go to Mason a very tough thing.

The Blue Jackets are a better team on the ice than they are in the standings. They had excellent defense front of their crease tonight and broke up far more passes than they allowed to be made. At center ice they held their own with the Bruins for stretches, something teams a good distance above them haven’t done much of even when the Bruins have lost. The offensive zone was not pretty for the visitors, they never managed to get any sustained pressure. Despite their managing to score, the power play was something that must have fans covering their eyes.

With Johnny Boychuk out with flu-like symptoms, something I more than suspect he was not the only player on the roster with, McQuaid slid into his spot along side along side the teams recently exonerated captain.  In sixteen pretty solid minutes of play he got the only goal, played sound defense and generally looked good against Nash and the Blue Jackets top forwards. It was interesting to note that McQuaid and Chara played within the offensive zone tonight where as many nights Boychuck and Chara line up just outside the blueline. I’m not 100% sure if this is an adjustment to the opposition or owes to the speed advantage McQuaid has over Boychuk.

Despite a game that can only be generously called sloppy, the Bruins will head to Long Island Saturday knowing they won all five games of their home stand, and have a chance to maintain one of the NHL’s two seven game win streaks. The other belongs to the New York Rangers who the Bruins will host on January 21st.  My stars of the game: 3: Sandford 2: Rask 1: Mcquaid.

Some members or positions on the Bruins seem to come up for speculation on a daily basis. Some times it is highlighting a weakness, sometimes it is because of excess depth. David Krejci’s name has come up more often than before recently. Someone asked me what I would consider a good return on him. Personally I wouldn’t trade him before the All Star game at the earliest and even then to the return would have to be advantageous. For all his potential, Seguin isn’t as solid at center as he is at wing, nor has he at this point proven he can be consistently better than Bergeron, Krejci, Kelly, and arguably Peverley at the position.

Scenario one:

Player for player even swap. I don’t see too many names on the market that might be both available and of equivalent value when age, contract and injury history are considered. Ideally the player coming back would be either a shooting power play quarterback defenseman who can be relied upon in his own end as a 2-4 guy. The other option would be a productive winger who isn’t a disaster in their own end, and can get 6-10 powerplay goals a year if given a reasonable amount of time  on the man advantage.

Scenario two:

Trade for picks and prospects. Given what the going rate for players was going into last years trade deadline, his RFA status on July 1, that he lead the NHL in post season scoring on route to a Cup, and having been the leading scorer on the Bruins a first round pick should be the minimum. The first should be for a team projected to finish with a top ten pick. Ideally a prospect would come back, or a conditional second round pick.

For a swap for prospects it would need to be a pretty exact fit for the Bruins current needs and likely be someone who could be playing in the NHL successfully but wasn’t do to depth on the trade partners team.

Scenario three:

As part of a large scale trade I can’t see including more than two prospects or one other roster player and one prospect for anyone but the untouchable level players in the NHL. Since I don’t see Bobby Ryan, Duncan Keith, or other players at that level becoming available, I suspect if we saw that size trade in the Bruins at this time it would signal bigger issues than there are any indications of.  But if the Ducks were to offer up Bobby Ryan for Krejci, McQuaid and a prospect or 2nd round pick or later, I’d have to look really hard at the idea if i were sitting in the corner office.