Sergei Samsanov is one former Bruins forward I know many fans miss. He’s currently an unsigned UFA. After time with the Habs, BlackHawks, and Oilers he settled in for a three and a half year stay with the Canes before being dealt to the Panthers. Apparently, guys like Thomas Kopecky, Dan Carcillo, and Benoit Pouliot are more valuable than someone like Samsanov who has averaged more points per game than Ryan Kesler. Surely this undermines the popular perception that a large percentage of the general managers in the NHL are idiots.

Byron Bitz is on the disabled list with a sports hernia that caused him to miss all of last season for the Florida Panthers. This season he’s keeping the Canucks medical staff busy. In his last game on March 27, 2010 he had a line of 0-0-0 with 0 shots on goal, and a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins like 0% faceoff rate.

Joe Thornton who has finally gotten people in the media to realize that he can’t carry a team himself, is off to a slow start with 0-0-0 -1 line to start the season in San Jose. To be fair, his face off winning percentages are obscene through three games: 73.7, 82.7 and 62.5, perhaps he’s saving spare wins to send to the CBC’s latest darling in Edmonton for Christmas?

Brad Stuart is perhaps the best former Bruins defenseman still playing in the NHL, or like Detroit’s goalies perhaps he’s just being carried by a good team. Not exactly known for his offense the soon to be thirty-two year old has still managed to put up good numbers in the playoffs, and tolerate being called Junior by most of the Red Wings roster.

Derek Morris was highly unproductive in for the Phoenix Coyotes in the playoffs last year. Fortunately for him his “out with an injury” excuse left him a much better reason for it than the guys who were on the ice. Despite only playing 58 games for Boston he was pretty productive here before being sent back to the desert where he look up to see Paul Bissionette waiving at him from the pressbox every night.

Former Calder Trophy winner Andrew Raycroft enjoyed what can be called a renaissance the last two seasons and has been quietly going from full time punchline to part time plugger. Interestingly enough he seems to thrive in mediocre teams, which probably means he’s int he right place for the next year or two.

If as Jimmy Murphy hints David Krejci is not able to make the trip to Carolina to take on Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner and Tomas Kaberle, then it might be just what the doctor ordered to get the team going. No one likes seeing any key player going down but frankly the line Krejci has centered has had a negative impact through the first three games despite his goal.

A couple likely scenarios suggest themselves. The simplest being that Caron get’s added to the line up, and that the three remaining centers; Bergeron, Kelly and Campbell get extra shifts between Lucic and Horton to see who sparks who. Given how fast the Carolina line up, this would fit well with Julien’s penchant for leaving familiar players together until he’s sure something is either completely broken or the new thing is incomparably better.

Another interesting possibility that might well work is shifting Bergeron up between Lucic and Horton as he was when Krejci was out last season. I said then that I thought it was the best line the Bruins had iced since the days of the 700 lb line. If they got going again I don’t think think I’d have any reason to change my mind. This does leave the question of what to do with the other lines. Given how effective the Merlot Line has been, I don’t see splitting them up. So sliding Caron into the lineup possibly means moving the recently extended Rich Peverley to center, and giving Jordan “Tv38” Caron right wing  While leaving Seguin, Kelly, and Pouliot alone.  For me this is ideal as all four lines would have a good dose each of size, speed, and grit and none would be without some defensive reliability.

Still, we don’t know David Krejci will miss the game. So jumping to conclusions while fun, and the most exercise many get in a day may not be all that useful.

David Krejci left practice early with apparent leg injury and Claude Julien says he does not know if Krejci will be on plane to Carolina.
@MurphysLaw74
Jimmy Murphy

Given how little turnover was expected for the remaining roster spots after the signing of Pouliot and the acquisition of Joe Corvo I’m honestly surprised by how many of the AHL players are still in camp. Add in Chris Clark lingering around and you have a genuine mystery if all you do is look at the surface of it. One forward position to fill, and a seventh defensemen to weed from the pack. A coach who just wanted to get thing set up and start working on the regular season lines could be forgiven for making an easy call and going with Jordan Caron who was here for twenty games last season much as Brad Marchand was the year before, or Jamie Arniel who led the Providence Bruins in goals and points and calling the forward position filled. Likewise, Steve Kampfer was in the midst of a promising rookie season before being sidelined, and Matt Bartkowski was called up for six games.

Yet, it is down to ten days left before the banner is raised and the puck is dropped on the new season and ice is littered with other players. Part of this is no doubt an effort to give the key players like Tim Thomas, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and others who did the heaviest lifting throughout the championship run as light as workload as possible. But that can’t explain it all. It’s only when you pull up a site like NHLNumbers.com or CapGeek.com that it becomes apparent that you’re looking at plans for later in the season when it becomes expedient to move players who won’t be brought back either because of their contract demands or their performance, as well as next years potential roster.

As of today, the number of players signed for the 2011-12 season is disconcertingly small. NHLNumbers lists just four defensemen from the Cup run signed beyond this season, Chara, Seidenberg, Ference and McQuaid are a lot of minutes covered but not enough for a full season. Up front the numbers are even worse, excluding Marc Savard, there are just five forwards signed for the 2012-13 season. Worse, of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Tyler Seguin, only Bergeron is not due for contract renewal after that season.

This also explains the early dismissal of the bright junior prospects. Not a few fans were genuinely shocked to see the departure of the top CHL players before allowing them even token appearances in the middle preseason games. While only one or two of the forwards were even close to NHL ready, they weren’t collectively close enough to make distracting from the AHL prospects reasonable. Sauve and Arniel are entering their third year out of juniors. Zach Hamill who had a cameo last season in his fourth year out of Everett Silvertips is one of just two of the two ten picks in the 2007 draft to play less than 100 games in the NHL.

Two of the defense pairings that have emerged through camp and the preseason games draw attention to themselves. The first is veteran Andrew Ference and Colby Cohen who was brought over in the Matt Hunwick trade. Cohen despite being traded for a roster player was not among the defensemen called up during the season. The former BU Terrier has shown some offensive prowess as an amateur but in sixty-six total professional games has just two goals. Cohen’s fellow Keystone State native Matt Bartkowski who was part of the filling on the Seidenberg acquisition has been seen skating with Johnny Boychuck. Bartkowski did manage to be on the ice for six games for Boston last season in with limited ice time.

Add in the return of Zach McKelvie and David Warsovsky’s first full professional season and you can see eleven different defensemen jockeying for seven positions. Warsovsky left school to join Providence last season, and put up three assists in the final ten games of the AHL season.  Warsovsky was acquired for Sobotka and is looked at as a potential powerplay quarterback. McKelvie is fresh off two years with the Army and looks steadier than most expected after two years away from the professional game.

One can’t help but speculate on if we will see one or two of last seasons roster moved. With the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement set to expire at seasons end, the Bruins pitiful powerplay, and the cachet of a fresh Stanley Cup run these might present the perfect storm for getting or moving players for the Bruins suits. Some teams may be nervous the labor dispute will get as bad as the NBA’s. Even a work stoppage that is settled as relatively quickly as the NFL’s could have a negative impact on some struggling franchises ticket sales and advertising revenue. Because of this there is a chance that swapping out a player or two could become irresistible.

With just two preseason games left and a solid dozen players vying to fill two roster spots it is anyones guess who will be on the opening night roster. Given the moves the Bruins have made in recent years in the early portion of the season that have moved players like Matt Hunwick, Jeff Penner and Andrew Alberts the odds of the roster being the same on January 6th as it will be on opening night aren’t very high.

For the first time in decades there are very few questions to be answered in terms of personnel on and off the ice. We have two time Vezina Trophy winner, and Conn Smyth holder Tim Thomas returning in goal with the well regarded Tuukka Rask backing him up. The defense is nearly as well stocked with the hulking Zdeno Chara and his oft overlooked but indispensable wing-man Dennis Seidenberg as the go to duo. Slated to return was are last years breakout defender Adam Mcquaid, the snarling wolverine to Chara’s loping wolf Andrew Ference, former AHL defenseman of the year and newlywed Johnny Boychuk. The well traveled Joe Corvo is the only new guy likely to be in the top six on October 6 when the banner goes up.  At forward Brad Marchand recently resigned and will almost certainly resume his “I Felt Like It.” behavior along side the teams best skater Patrice Bergeron, and leaving just one forward slot among the four lines in doubt.

With studs like Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner headlining the list of those who hope to turn pro this year, some might just pencil one of their names into the lineup and go back to counting down until the puck drops. That would be a mistake. The biggest question left after Marchand reupping and Savard being down checked for the season is where Seguin will play. This is the question that affects every other decision that will be made this year and going forward. If he is going to play at center going forward, for now that means the third line and likely with one or both Peverley and Kelly. If he’s going play at wing, he could still end up with last seasons late acquisitions, or he could slide up and join Marchand in flanking Bergeron. If he does, as some have speculated land next to the dynamic duo the question become what role the third line will take. If you’re expecting the lines centered by Bergeron and Krejci to carry a hefty percentage of the offense, the third line becomes a checking line by default.

If the third line is to be a checking line with Kelly and Peverley making up two thirds of it, then Pouliot is likely in the lead for the third spot on the line. Another option is to put a rookie who may not be ready to play in all situations on that line and use them sparingly while double shifting other forwards to leverage their capabilities. If that is the case the door is wide, wide open and the list goes well beyond Arniel, Caron, Suave, as front runners and allows for anyone such as Camper, Cunningham or Khokhlachev to blow the doors off management and earn a chance to grow into a well rounded player.

One of the other options that I haven’t seen talked about for Bergeron’s second winger is Peverley. Peverley was used in every situation and on every line during the playoffs last year. He’s a high end skater in both speed and agility, he’s a good passer and has even taken faceoffs on a regular basis. If he’s slotted in on the second line, the third line is possibly even more interesting. Pairing Seguin with Caron to fill out the line with Kelly gives a good amount of size, speed and skill and makes the Bergeron’s line even more effective as a two way production and scoring line. Seguin and Caron would be able to come along at a reasonable pace earning additonal ice timeand give each of them familiarity with a player likely to be in the organization a long time.

On defense the question of who is number seven is possibly more interesting. Steve Kampfer looked great for parts of his time prior to his injury last season, looked good at others, and looked entirely out of his depth on more than one occasion. Still, he played more time among the six defensemen put on the ice last year than any of the other options. David Warsovsky is a possibilty as he’s an offensive specialist and might be looked at to help improve the powerplay. Ryan Button intruiged me at prospect camp with his skating, reflexes and hands and shouldn’t be overlooked when taking notes the next couple weeks. Matt Bartkowski was the other semi-regular member of the Bruins defense last year. While his time wasn’t particularly impressive, it’s hard to lay that entirely at his skates as most of the game he played the club was mired in a funk that made the team painful to watch.

Given how little was done to address the powerplay from outside the team over the offseason, and the cap position of several teams don’t be surprised if the Bruins make a move or two between now and the start of the season. The Buffalo Sabres have heavily retooled since Terry Pegula took over, are currently well over the cap and a very dangerous team, the Calgary Flames are still in desperate need of a center who can stay within shouting range of Jarome Iginla as well. Not to be left off the list of teams yearning for a playoff spot are the recently uptooled Columbus BlueJackets and the Minnesota Wild. Columbus hasn’t made the playoffs in their history, and the Wild have not been in the post season the last two seasons.

There aren’t many questions to be asked about roster spots this year, but what questions there are will keep us all watching.

The ongoing saga of Brad Marchand’s dance with the Boston Bruins brass has reached the level of absurdity. No, I take that back. It passed absurdity a long time ago. Adam Mcquaid was re-signed and his existing deal wasn’t set to expire until next summer. Joe Corvo was acquired a long time ago. Sure forty goal man Benoit Pouliot was signed just days after the cup was raised. And just in-case anyone has forgotten it the 35 year Chris Clark who has a history of knee injuries was invited to training camp. Just today, the team extended Providence Bruins defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk, who went -8 with one goal last season.

While at least one of those moves was something that could be a serious positive impact on the team. Doing all of these ahead of signing a key forward who’s contract has expired is very much like sliding a chair under the doorknob to your backdoor to keep burglars out while leaving the front door, and every large window open and a trail of hundred dollar bills from the mantle to the curb. When you draft a player who’s somewhere around seventeen, what your drafting is potential and work ethic. The two don’t march in lockstep and one often fails to materialize. In the case of Brad Marchand we saw sports of both two seasons ago. Last season, when no one expected him to make the team, and he started the year in the pressbox before a stay on the fourth line. In January he was key to Patrice Bergeron earning first star in the NHL. In the post season he scored in every round of the playoffs.

So what gives? Are they hoping he might be versatile? Let’s see, he scored short handed, even strength, and on the powerplay. He delivered hits, drew penalties and blocked shots. He produced in the early season, the midseason and the late season. He produced on the fourth line, he produced with and without Bergeron on a production line.  He had two goals in game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals. He handled the media well. I suspect his jersey and tshirt have been selling quite well too.

So what’s the hold up? We know if they got the extensions for Bodnarchuk and Mcquaid done, a: the nice folks in the NHL offices are still talking to them and b: someone with the authority to sign deals has been sober enough to do so on at least two occasions. Regardless of what the hold up is, a deal could and should have been done by now. In the present day NHL there is no such thing as an unmovable contract. This applies doubly to Stanley Cup champions. If Scott Gomez and Brian Campbell can be moved with contracts that were deemed unmovable when they were signed, I can’t imagine any number that could be hung on Marchand that kept the team near the cap as currently configured.

Did Marchand suddenly become unmanageable? See above. Dany Heatley has been moved and has done far less in the playoffs. Nikita Filatov was made team captain of one of the Russian national teams despite the circumstances with the BlueJackets, then he too was traded to a rebuilding team. If there’s one thing we’ve all learned from watching the NHL the last few years it’s that if there is talent there’s a taker. So assuming the number is five million a year. That’s less than Kessel got, and Marchand has proved he’s willing to work hard with and without the puck, and be creative going to the net.

So what’s the worst that happens? With Savard’s cap space even Chara can’t reach the cap ceiling. If the number proves too much exile him to Florida where Dale Tallon is doing his usual bang-up job of cap management. Or ship him out to St Louis where he and Sobotka can shop in all the same clothing stores. Heck, given the biggest trade the Avalanche made over the summer Marchand could probably fetch a first, a second a prospect and the luxury box revenue.

Whatever the reason Marchand isn’t signed at this point, even if it is part of a sign and trade is no longer a good one. Camp opens in days. It is now a distraction to the team as well as fans and management. Why should he go into camp with his usual fire if he’s got no safety net? What about the other players? What about putting lines together, penalty kill use, and all the other roles he played? Then there is the question of how much turnover is a good thing. Given the likelihood Marchand doesn’t return that will be Marchand, Ryder, Recchi off the forward lines. That’s a lot of ice time across even strength and special teams. Essentially it is a whole forward line lost, for a team that struggled on the powerplay, and isn’t over blessed with speed letting Marchand go or having him sit out without a contract is absurd.

The Boston Bruins slayed the dragon on June 15th. They ended a Stanley Cup drought that stretched back longer than anyone on the team today has been alive. As a Stanley Cup champion they suffered injuries to the body of players that made up the winning legion. Some championship teams have been killed outright by massive loss of talent. For others, just as has been the case throughout the history of warfare disease has collected a far higher body count than enemy action. In the case of NHL teams, and certain nations throughout history victory disease is the quietest and most insidious killer.

Gone are leading powerplay producers of last season future hall of famer Mark Recchi and two time 30 goal man Michael Ryder.  Departed from the blueline is the man they paid a kings ransom for just prior to the trade deadline. In their place we have Benoit Pouliot, who’s extraordinary NHL exploits speak for themselves.  We have an empty roster spot that will possibly be filled with an AHL graduate or major junior prodigy. The blueline has actually been downgraded. As poorly as Tomas Kaberle performed he is still over the course of his the holder of greater efficacy than the Joe Corvo, and has avoided the off ice issues. Kaberle has been .13 points per game better than Corvo and even put up a better shooting percentage.

While it was nice to Adam Mcquaid extended it’s hard to say that the future of the club over the next four season would be radically degraded without him inked to an extension after his rookie season as an admirable third pairing defenseman. With Marc Savard unlikely to ever play again the same can not be said in regards to David Krejci who centered the top offensive line this season. His contract would have expired at the same time as McQuaid’s and unlike the brawny blueliner he’d have been eligible for arbitration. While he played behind the now two time Vezina Trophy winning, Jennings winning, Con Smyth winning 37 year old Tim Thomas Tuuka Rask is also probably a shade more important over the medium term than McQuaid, no rumor has reached me of an extension offer being dangled in front of him either.

The first elephant in the room is however the fact that training camp looms close ahead while the echos of celebration fade away and a forward who scored more playoff goals as a rookie than Mario Lemuix, who led the team in shorthanded goals in the regular season, and who clearly demonstrated his desire to improve year over year is still not re-signed. So far the lack of signing has been blamed on; illness, vacations, Stanley Cup days, El Nino, conflicting schedules, the hunt for the Amstel Light drinker and Brad’s ever absent shirts.  The second elephant is that several of the better teams in the eastern conference have been staging a noisy arms race since before the draft. The Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, and Buffalo Sabres have all been hugely active in trades and free agent signings, and the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to get back not one, but two Hart Trophy winners. The Bruins who finished a slim seven points ahead of Buffalo, and behind the Flyers, Capitals, and Penguins have put pop guns into their lineup while the competition loads up with surface to air missiles.

Fans have to be wondering what the commitment of the Bruins front office is to being the first team in the post lockout era to repeat is. The Bruins powerplay still hasn’t been adequately addressed and fans across the globe still wince in memory of it. The team has downgraded the productivity of its on ice product as Corvo’s sole advantage over Kaberle is his willingness to shoot the puck, and Pouliot has yet to put together a season as good as even Recchi’s least productive. For Bruins fans, the summer of love looks to run directly into the winter of discontent.

After a dismal powerplay during the post season, and an aggressively mediocre power play in the regular season, one would have thought fixing this would be priority number one. A week into free agency the power play is worse than it was not better. The inconsistent Michael Ryder has moved on. Mark Recchi has retired after a glorious career. They have not been replaced.

Michael Ryder for all his faults, was one of the top two forward contributors to the powerplay. Mark Recchi, for every minute of his age was the other. Recchi led the entire team in powerplay points. Ryder was first on the team in powerplay goals. To replace them, Peter Chiarelli signed Benoit Pouliot. The latest Habs discard had exactly one powerplay goal last year. One powerplay goal is exactly the same number that Greg Campbell had. The issue is not just his lack of production, but how bad what little production he had really is. Campbell saw a bare 17 minutes of powerplay time. Pouliot was on the ice for four times that. Campbell even managed to add an assist in his powerplay time, Pouliot, not so much.

So here we sit, a week into free agency. All indications point to Marc Savard not being on the ice to start the season. The top points producers from last years powerplay are gone. A roster spot has been filled by a chronic underperformer with less career goals than one of the players lost had just last regular season, his worst full season to date. What are we to expect? A full season going by with teams hacking away at our best players because they know the powerplay is no threat? Should we expect Claude Julien for all his other strengths to suddenly take untested prospects and make them the movers and shakers of the powerplay? And if so, which ones? The Providence Bruins last year had a powerplay that was not only the worst in the AHL but five percent more useless than Boston’s. I suppose its possible Julien will take an entirely different route from what has won him coach of the year awards both the AHL and NHL, and most recently allowed him to hoist the Stanley Cup with his team. I don’t see it, but sure, we could very well spend the year watching Maxime Suave and Jordan Caron getting two plus minutes a night of powerplay time. I think we’re just as likely to see Tyler Seguin lead the team in fighting majors at the end of the season as to see that, but it is possible.

It’s not a secret that I find the Benoit Pouliot deal a tiny bit incomprehensible. You might say I find it just as curious as calling the anarchists who show up to sporting events with Molotov cocktails, gasoline and ski masks and then proceed to instigate a riot no matter the outcome “sports fans”. As a rule, most sports fans who’s team lose are too dejected to do anything more harmful than toss back a couple more adult beverages and eat something with enough salt to treat their driveway for two snowy weeks.

Of the moves made, and not for people who were in the system, and played an important role, here are the rankings:

Made:

  • Pouliot, thumbs down. He’s not a very high bar to pass. Looking back at the 2005 draft it was about as thin as they get. No forward above the 4th round with as many games has less goals. He’s not very disciplined. He’s not a good goal scorer. He’s made 22 playoff appearances without a goal while going -5. He’s now on this third team since being drafted six years ago and has yet to play his 200th NHL game despite being a high draft pick who turned pro in 2006-7.
  • Khodoubin, thumbs up. Best move of the day, with Rasks knee a question mark to start the season, the question of what will be down with two goaltenders who are #1s, and the uncertainty of the long pro season, great move. Better still, we’ll have a good idea how much of the Providence Bruins performance is due to the goaltending, and how much is the play in front of them. I’m honestly surprised no NHL team grabbed him as at least a backup. He managed to go from the Houston Areo’s an AHL Calder Cup Finalist, to the Providence Bruins who didn’t make the playoffs and improve both his GAA and Sv%.
  • Whitfield. thumbs up. Work ethic, work ethic, work ethic he was captain of the Providence Bruins last year and likely will be the next two years.  Not especially gifted physically, but knows where to be and how to read plays.I suspect he’ll probably have a job as a coach as soon as he hangs up his skates.

Not made:

  • Ryder, thumbs up. Sorta, he played better in the late season and playoffs than in his previous 18 months in uniform. Part of the post season success was linking up with Seguin and Kelly, particularly Seguin. That said for much of stay in Boston he wasn’t even a passenger he was luggage. If he’d signed a 1 year pact for what he signed on for in Dallas, I wouldn’t have complained, I think the one year deals are good for motivation of “enigmatic” players like Ryder and Semin.
  • Marchand, thumbs down. This is a provisional thumbs down, but the teams who have been left out, or teams like the LA Kings who have a bleeding need at left wing might be tempted to throw out an offer sheet. With the exception of Selanne, no UFA forward on the market scored more goals than Marchand did last year. Morrison had 2 more points last season, everyone else left was noticeably less of a contributor. Also, with Recchi retired, retooling an entire line for no better reason than dickering over a contract with a player who proved he was willing to put in the work to improve year over year and contributed in all areas is a bit silly.
  • Kaberle, thumbs up. Despite the nonsense spewing from the folks on TSN/NHLnet on July 1, Kaberle was mostly a non factor. For comparison, Ference had 0:50 of PPTOI per game in the playoffs and Kaberle had 3:46, Ference had two assists, Kaberle five. No NHL team has ever depended on Ference for propping up their offense, and yet in the second season Ference had four goals, which is exactly four more than Kaberle produced. Any contract more than 1 year is a bad idea. Anything approaching the contract he had is unwarranted. I don’t see how one of the free agents or prospects could fail to match his performance with the Bruins for a lot cheaper.

No move can ever be evaluated 100% fairly until the contract is up or some amazing achievement has been made, but history says a lot about each of these players.

It would appear that Peter Chiarelli seems to enjoy yanking the rug out from the feet of his Northeast Division rivals. Over the past few years the Boston Bruins have signed from or traded from a lot of  so players. Michael Ryder just departed for the Dallas Stars, he was a Canadien. Marc Savard I’m sure has a deep, sharp memory of another former Habs and Bruins forward Steve Begin, who not long before becoming a Bruins fourth liner broke the star centers back.

Daniel Paille was the first trade between the Bruins and Sabres not very long ago and that has worked out well. One shouldn’t forget how well the Tomas Kaberle trade worked out. For a mere first round pick, second round pick and former first round pick the Bruins got worst powerplay in NHL playoff history, a four and a half million dollar contract, and a fifth defenseman. The Senators discard Chris Kelly has been a very solid contributor.

But today, Benoit Pouliot was added to the Bruins roster. For those who don’t recall exactly who he is Jack Edwards provides a great refresher.

 

While I’m willing to give nearly anyone the benefit of the doubt, it should be noted that of all the players I mentioned as potential good matches that no where on the list was a guy who has a career goals high of 17, seems not to be able to stick with a club, and isn’t especially gifted in any aspect of the game. Working the powerplay isn’t his specialty, penalty kill is not his specialty. Hitting and physical play, also not very notable. Shot blocking and penalty killing can also be crossed off the list. As can goal scoring, play making and any other statistically valid piece.