The Boston Bruins 7th Player Award is one of those awards that is so hard to judge. If you look at any given to week span of the marathon you could award it to a good dozen players in a deep team. Other years you wonder if anyone deserves it. This year is another hard year to judge. Many players have been what they are expected to be. Some have been better for parts of the year, and at or below expectations the rest. Some of been good but not way over expectations.
Player has to consistently do what they are expected to do.
What they do outside that role has to be positive and fairly consistent.
Must play Bruins hockey.
Exceed at least a third of the other players at that position, minimum.
Off the top of the list we have the positively eliminated:
Patrice Bergeron he’s the team MVP, which isn’t what the 7th player award is.
Zdeno Chara, has been up and down this year, but still worth every bit of his pay.
Brad Marchand, he came in and has handily exceeded last years numbers, not hugely but done slightly more than expected.
The negatively eliminated:
Tyler Seguin, hot and cold, hot and cold, hot and cold…
David Krejci, see above.
Joe Corvo, ah no. No ones expectations were that low.
Benoit Pouliot, his numbers are worse than last year when he was with the Habs.
If we toss out the goalies who most Bruins fans seem to think are guilty of something north of murder and not quite as bad a child molestation or not liking hockey if they let in two goals in a night we are left with a small pool of guys who have performed about to expectations or above.
Chris Kelly is playing 30 seconds less shorthanded time than last year, but has had an uptick in offense and faceoffs, but he’s been quite hot and cold offensively.
Dennis Seidenberg is an interesting choice too, he’s playing more ice time than last year, has tripled his +/- despite not playing much of the year with Chara.
Shawn Thornton would be all sorts of fun to give the award to, he’s having his second best career offensive season, had that truly filthy shorthanded goal, and has earned his PIMS with 19 fighting majors and better kept his peace when getting egregiously bad calls against him.
In truth either of those three would be a more than acceptable winner. At one point it looked like Chris Kelly was going to run away with the award. He leveled off a bit when Rich Peverley went out, but has picked up lately with the addition of Brian Rolston. If you ignore October and the first week or so of November Lucic has been stellar this season, playing as a one man line more nights than are fair to him but it is unlikely he hits 30 goals again this season. Which leaves just one man clearly worthy of the 7th Player Award.
Andrew Ference. Despite missing ten games with an injury he’s exceeded his best offensive year as a member of the Boston Bruins by 25%, with games left to play. He’s been as solid as we could hope for defensively. He’s increased his shorthanded time on ice, over last year and has brought the fast, physical game we’ve always expected of him. On and off the ice he’s a contributor.
When you look at some of the other teams to win the cup recently and what they did in their next year, most of it isn’t pretty. Duncan Keith had a bad year after the Cup win, by comparison Chara’s average to slightly above year is pretty nice. Zetterberg played two more games, and scored 20 less points they year after winning the Cup, Lucic has 12 games left to the season and is only 9 points off of last years total. Marc-Andre Fluery’s save percentage took a tumble year over year, oddly enough he started off the year strong, and had a stumble with a train wreck of a month towards this time of year and then bounced back in his post-Cup year. Even Nicklas Lidstrom had a down year in the post-Cup year.
With all the travel that the Bruins saw for the Eastern Conference finals schlepping back and forth from far north to far south in the US, not to mention a seven game series started without their best forward, then added to the cross continental 3 time zone shift four times and seven games and losing a top winger its not surprising they are having issues even this long later. Detroit, Chicago, and Pittsburgh all had much shorter trips between home and away. Chicago played Philly, Pittsburgh and Detroit played each other both years and none of those cities are all that far apart. The year after their Cup wins, Detroit finished with less points, Chicago finished not just with less points but made the playoffs on the last day. As disconcerting as what we’re seeing is, it isn’t unprecedented or even as bad as it could be.
Trickle Down Weariness
The injury front presents a couple less apparent problems. Nathan Horton and Rich Peverley both went out it put bigger than apparent holes in the team. Horton’s physicality and size on a a team that is pretty small up front can’t be be overlooked. Of the top nine forwards left, when he went out only Lucic was over 200lbs. Krejci, Marchand, (Hamill), Seguin are all under 190lbs. Taking away that added ability to not just throw big hits, but withstand them and maintain control of the puck is huge. Add in his willingness to drop the gloves and pound the snot out of someone and you’ve got a second problem. The elephant in the room however is his powerplay production. Despite the slow start and the time missed, he’s still third on the team in powerplay goals.
Rich Peverley’s injury created it’s own fault lines and widened the ones left by the loss of Horton. Rich Peverley’s speed has always put him in the top tier of the NHL’s forwards. Unlike a lot of the company he keeps there he has not just straight line speed but an ability to go side to side and make sudden stops and starts that is very nearly unparallelled. Taking that speed and agility out means you’re left with Marchand and Seguin in the top nine with game changing speed, both of whom are smaller than Peverley and one of whom isn’t nearly as physical. When you drill into the stats and look at who does what on the team you find he’s still second in powerplay assists despite almost a month out. What’s worse is where he plays his special teams time. Most of his powerplay time is done at the point allowing one or more defensemen to rest, and he has averaged nearly two minutes a game of shorthanded time on ice. That extra time has either gone to the already burdened Bergeron or Kelly, or slipped to Krejci and Marchand.
Caution Contents Easily Damaged
As if the physical injuries weren’t bad enough, the teams psyche has gotten fragile enough to make Rick Dipietro look like the model for endurance. The game against the Florida Panthers they put in their best effort in weeks right up until the Panthers second goal went in. Then the Panthers could have been replaced by some the LincolnStars of the USHL, and still lost the game. I have no idea where the team that saw Nathan Horton get nearly decapitated at center ice and then come back to curb stomp the opposition went. Michael Ryder, Kaberle and Recchi moving on are insufficient reason for this many guys who have been there and done that to fall apart at the first sign of things not going their way.
The powerplay that had been in the top third of the league before the slump is now 14th. The penalty kill that was top five is now ninth. In comparison to the playoffs last year their hitting is down, as are their blocked shots. Worse what they are doing in front of the net is creating problems for the the goalies. Instead of committing to blocking a shot or letting the goalie see it, skaters are routinely setting screens. The puck will go in off their body or between two or more Bruins skaters on the way to the net. The shot shirking is bad enough it reminds me of various thankfully departed defensemen from years past.
Open Armed Welcome
When opposing players get to the crease, behind the net in that god awful trapezoid, or park themselves in the low slot no one does anything. It isn’t just Corvo who looks at opponents and wonders how long they have to think about getting a good draft at The Greatest Bar before whoever it is goes away. The softest most contact aversive forward in the league can now stand anywhere he likes and know for certain no one will drop him on his backside. Skate into the crease after the whistle? No problem. I’m honestly surprise the guys haven’t put a visitors sports bottle on the net for them.
Front Of Leadership
I think the trade deadline sent a very clear message to the team:
We’ve got our hands over our eyes.
The best piece they traded away was Steve Kampfer, and got less in return. What the brought in were pieces they clearly don’t see any real use for. None of the three has a contract that runs past the end of the season. None of the three addresses a need at the time or now. Rolston does not have Horton’s physicality. Rolston does not have Peverley’s speed. Rolston also does not have their scoring ability. Zanon and Mottau haven’t eased Chara’s penalty kill minutes. Zanon and Mottau haven’t taken up any of the scoring slack on a very low scoring defense. Zanon and Mottau aren’t injecting any real speed, physicality or poise into the lineup. When you come right down to it these guys fit the team the arrived too and not the team that is supposed to be here.
What’s wrong with the Boston Bruins is a question I’ve been asked a couple times a week for about two, nearly two and a half months. The tailspin didn’t start with the losing, it started with some of the undeserved wins at the end of December. In January, it was bad luck and stupid injuries but there are several underlying factors some affect the team as a whole, some individual components. For the sake of accuracy, we’ll include the injuries Sunday in the mix.
What’s wrong the Bruins top six?
Bergeron, Krejci, Lucic, Marchand, Seguin, Horton, Savard and yes in fact I can count. As a group,right now and for the last two or three weeks we’re seeing mental and physical burnout. Patrice Bergeron who is one of the fittest athletes in the NHL has sounded winded during his last two post practice radio spots. This is unheard of. He’s now injured with a probably bone bruise from blocking a shot.
Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin are in the middle of their second full NHL seasons. In addition to having the shiny of playing int he NHL wear off, they’ve got the after affects of the Stanley Cup run. The early season hangover was certainly the morning after, but for these two in particular and the team as a whole, this is that second wretched part of the night after when you get home but its a bit too early to go to bed. While it’s hard to call a performance that exceeds their previous campaign a sophomore slump consistency hasn’t been high.
Milan Lucic the wonder isn’t that he has so few goals, but so many. With Horton’s early struggles and Krejci non-existence for several weeks he was for all intents and purposes a one man line for a long time. Krejci has decided to check in again after searching the woods for Ilya Bryzgalov. The non biological, retraining issues of a concussion recovery took a bite out of his season even before he was waylaid by another hit to the head. Marc Savard, would be such a skill infusion.
With the injuries to the second six, the top six has been getting more ice time than usual, leading to less energy, more mistakes, more if not apathy than resignation at failure. Paile and Peverley’s injuries in particular have led to a lot more penalty kill time for other players.
What’s wrong with the Bruins second six?
Kelly, Peverley, Paille, Campbell, Thornton, Pouliot have been riven with injuries at various points this season. Broken feet, knee injuries, busted up faces the works. Injuries and inconsistency in the top six have pulled guys out of their comfort zone, and often over their head as well. For all the effort he shows, Pouliot is not getting powerplay time on a healthy playoff contender. Shawn Thornton might be having a better points year than most of his career, but he’s playing less minutes and getting less results than last year and part of that is the time Campbell and Paille have spent dinged up.
One of the biggest losses to the roster from the second six is speed. Peverley and Paille give their linemates so much extra space with their speed its silly. Peverley is a bit more agile and can weave in and out of crowds with the best, but Paille can run up to and then run down anyone his size or larger. The breakaways that these to can create normally force opposing coaches to leave their second defensive out longer since most third pairings just don’t own both the skill and speed to keep up.
What’s wrong with the Bruins fill-ins and add-ons?
Hamill, Caron, Kampfer, Sauve, MacDermid, Rolston, Zanon, Mottau, Camper, Turco, Whitfield, Bartkowski…the first problem is that their are two damned many of them which has a not so incidental bearing on the second problem. The second one being ill defined roles. The best illustrations of this are Rolston who since coming over has played on both wings, two different powerplay units and two different lines. Zach Hamill is an even better example, he played on all four lines, all three center positions and with at least seven different linemates when he wasn’t in and out of the lineup.
Obviously none of this group is the issue. But not knowing where you’re supposed to be in hockey is the next worst thing to playing blind.
This is a two part post, the rest of which will post soon.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With the Bruins slump now entering its seventh week, its time to consider something I didn’t think I’d find myself endorsing at any point this season. Unfortunately with the loss of Peverley piled upon the loss of Horton, it’s past time to examine the idea. The Bruins need to break up Bergeron’s line. It has been the top line for the Bruins all season, however as things stand there is a decided lack of NHL proven skill and speed on the other lines.
Ideally the lines would shake out like this:
Lucic – Bergeron – Caron
Marchand – Kelly – Hennessy
Pouliot – Krejci – Seguin
For the first line, Bergeron gets to keep one of the top two goal scorers for the team this season, and both his new left and right wingers shoot from the same side as his current wingers. We need to know what Caron’s true talent level is, and he’s defensively responsible enough to put out against top and second lines even if he’s not going to score much.
The second line gives Kelly the type of speed he’s used to from Peverley, and a physical presence in both Hennessy and Marchand. With his ability to win faceoffs, they can control the puck and the pop them past the goalie. Again with Marchand and Kelly on the line we have enough of a defensive presence to keep the gents behind the bench happy, and off all the players in the Bruins system Hennessy has spent the most time playing with Kelly from their days in the Senators system.
Krejci lines up with a similar dynamic to the line he had early success with while playing pivot for Blake Wheeler and Michael Ryder. Some speed, some physicality and two guys he’ll have to work to keep up with. In Seguin he’s also paired with a player happy to take up the burden of shooting the puck multiple times a shift. If Pouliot is on a line with a high end scoring threat, it will open him up further and he may get a few more goals.
While this won’t fix lack of effort, won’t fix players not going to the net, and won’t fix defensive issues, it will however make it harder to shut down the forward lines. Spreading out the offense and making it more difficult for the opposition to simply throw the best defensive unit they have against the Bergeron line and pushing the other lines to the outside. The change in linemates might just spur certain players who are performing well below their expected level of play might make it back to something like their desired level play.
Before the Phil Kessel trade, there was the David Krejci contract. A furor rolled across message boards for weeks. He should get paid more than whatever Kessel got, he should get more than Bergeron or even Savard were the top ends of hubris. Krejci should get get less than any of them. He’s lazy, he’s slow. He’s the best passer, he’s a great shooter. He’s the second coming of Lafontaine, he’s the second coming of Bochenski. It was a great deal of noise was even louder than it was disjointed.
Then he got a modest contract. And earned it. At three million and change he was well worth it as a second or third type center. In that role he was solid. Then Bergeron hit his stride offensively. Then Savard went down. But, Krejci was between new comer and 30 goal scorer Nathan Horton and the resurgent Milan Lucic. At times they were the best line in hockey last season. At times they were the best paid line per point in Boston. Lucic battled through a breathing problem, and the lines play was generally solid but even in the playoffs where Krejci eeked out the most points on the team, no one called him the most impactful forward game in game out.
Way back in October when everyone got a hall pass on the opening weeks of the season as part of the Stanley Cup hangover. Then Krejci was given a day or two off for a nagging injury. He was eventually called out along with Nathan Horton for lax play by Julien. He had a solid six week run mysteriously just after he signed a contract that will pay him more than any other Bruins forward. Since then he’s reverted to the hangover form. Against the Capitals, he was shuffled to playing with Benoit Pouliot the twice discarded, and Jordan Caron who has bounced between the Boston ice, the AHL and the pressbox.
“I don’t think there’s really any message other than we expect our players to come out and be the best they can every night,” Julien said. “That’s something that I think they owe it to the organization especially based on their contracts. That’s what we expect from them no matter where they are. The message should be the same whether he plays with certain players, his normal linemates or other players.”
But does anyone believe that? Claude Julien is the last coach to throw a guy to the media lions, but he will do it. As we saw with other players of variable effort level, it is a tactic he clearly dislikes and uses only as a must. We saw it with Wideman, we saw it with Ryder. We’ve certainly seen him do it with Seguin, Kessel and even Marchand, but he’s not going to do it until he feels he’s got no choice.
What do: David Krejci and Matt Bartkowski have in common? They are the only two players to lace up the skates for the Bruins this season and not manage at least an even +/-. Bartkowski was universally deemed not yet NHL ready. Which makes Krejci’s performance on the NHL’s goal differential leader more telling. A guy who led the NHL in scoring in the playoffs, but can’t manage positive contribution in the regular season isn’t lacking in skill. There is the possibility that another nagging injury like the hip he had off season surgery for exists. If that is the case it does him a lot of credit to still be on the ice. Injury as the cause also would make the locker room, and staff pretty tight lipped as I’ve not heard a whisper of it.
In the last ten games, he’s been held to 1 or 0 shots on goal seven times. This is from a guy who’s getting as many as 18 minutes a night. By comparison, Rich Peverley has only been held to 1 or 0 three times. In that same ten games, Peverley has twenty shots on goal, Krejci just ten. The revealing thing about the shot disparity is that Peverley plays a lot more time short handed, and is pushed out to the point in their nearly identical powerplay time. A more one to one comparison to another center is that Bergeron has 18 shots on goal in the last ten games.
Where oh where did the sad sack Ducks go? Bruce Boudreau seems to have gotten the Ducks to know their role and roll in their lane. The Ducks have won six of eight since the start of the year with one of the losses coming in OT. Just a hunch but I bet it has something to do with holding their shots against count down. Instead of their average of slightly over 30 per game on the season, only two opponents have broken 30 in the new year, and 3 have been held to 25 or less.
Rene Bourque, hockey goon? Well, probably not but he did drop the gloves on his first shift against the Capitals.
I’m sure he’s put eastern conference enforcers back on their heels.
The Colorado Avalanche seem to have gotten the Wonkavator to change directions again.
They’re 6-3-1 in their last 10. Does this mean we can all look forward to another season half season (or more) of Where’s Sacco’s Sack? No doubt there are at least a few ex-NHL coaches who would love to go to the mile high city.
Tonight marks the return of Brad Marchand and Rich Peverley to the Bruins lineup. One from being exiled to Siberia, the other from personal issues that had him depart the team and miss the Tampa debacle. Undoubtedly their cavalry charge will be at least as successful as this one.
Finally with eleven games on the schedule tonight, those of you having trouble deciding what to watch:
Game of the night Senators Vs Sharks, two teams at or near the top and playing well.
Slaughter in the making: Oilers vs Blues, with all the injuries to Edmonton’s finest, there isn’t much excuse for Blues to end the night without two points.
Defensive Dance: Flames vs Kings, if there are more than four goals scored in this one I’ll be amazed.
Gong Show? The Wild vs The Maple Leafs: The Leaf’s are spiraling towards the basement in the east, and all the Wild not on the IR are busy wondering when their turn for casts and surgery is.
While there are numerous stars not going to the All Star game because like Kris Letang or Jordan Eberle they are injured or like Lidstrom or Selanne they declined, there are some players who didn’t make it simply because they were deemed less entertaining than players who are better than them this year. I know most people who follow the NHL closely think (not without justification) that the All Star Game is indeed a farce, and I’m among them, but the skills competition and other events are a lot of fun and that’s why I’d like to see some of them go. Some as participants on the ice, and well, a few others just because.
Radim Vrbata has 21 goals for the Coyotes, which puts him ahead of Daniel Sedin, he’s also got five powerplay goals, and has actually scored shorthanded, something Sedin has yet to do in his eleven seasons.
Patrice Bergeron, more points than Alex Ovechkin, has won in the playoffs, plays in all situations and owns a cup clinching goal.
James Neal, burst on to the scene this year with Crosby out of action and carried the team through the first third of the season, with 21 goals only five players have scored more.
Scott Hartnell, love him or hate him he’s having a great season. With 19 goals he’s got more than Ovechkin, Seguin, and Alfredsson who will all be there.
Kris Versteeg, the now well traveled winger has taken his talents to southbeach Sunrise and parlayed them into more points than at least half a dozen of the names on the roster, and he’s a great rapper.
Loui Eriksson see all the reasons above for any of these forwards. He’s kinda a big deal.
John Carlson is hands down the most well rounded defenseman on the Washington Capitals, his numbers are as good as Lidstroms and he’s got a much less defensively sound team around him.
Jared Cowen, despite the hectare of guys playing in Ontario already should be there, either as a Young Star, or full fledged All Star. The latter is a stretch, but no more than some of the players actually named.
Mike Smith is 8th in overall sv%, only two of the guys ahead of him have played nearly as many games as his 33, and Carey Price is 24th on that list.
One of the things that could liven up the event would be having a few players take the place of officials, and do the judging, interviews and commentary on the game and skills.
Shawn Thornton and Paul Bissonnette spring to mind as the perfect garrulous guys to cover the skills competitions and provide color commentary during the game.
Despite some dippy coach who taints things with his mouth wanting him anywhere but in his locker room, Sean Avery would be an unparallelled choice to interview arriving players, coaches and officials on the runway. He can talk the game, the players and the fashion and do all three naturally.
As the ultimate on ice officials; Brad Marchand and Ryan Miller. Neither is a bit shy about sharing their opinion, and (assuming any) the calls they made could be quite engaging. As an added bonus of Marchand being in the building him and Versteeg could have a free style battle.
Official Astrologer: None other than Ilya Bryzgalov.
This full and clear contact to the head, by someone who was suspended for five games plus the remainder of the preseason was only bad enough to earn a three game suspension.
This hit to the body, by someone of similar NHL tenure, who had only been suspended for two games was good for five. Of note is that Marchand was told over the off season that his hit was not actionable.
Anyone who can make sense of this feel free to explain it.
Note for the sake of objectivity I’ve gone with the full NHL video for each, not videos that show additional or alternate angles.