Jeff Carter and the LA Kings

Carter finally got his first two goals as a member of Orange County’s best dressed gang. To the surprise of no one Mike Richards figured in on both goals. Equally surprising was that the goals came against a division rival who like the Kings are in the thick of the race for the second season. One of the best reasons for the trade deadline to stay when it is remains integrating players into the lineup in a way that lets them be effective. In the case of cross continent trades time zone adjustment also plays a role. Carter getting his groove back is a great thing for his and Kings fans, and not so good for their opponents.

Steve Kampfer In Motion

For those wondering why it is a promising young defensemen was shuffled out of Boston, the answer is simple. He lost confidence. I can’t blame him. In fact the blame for that lies squarely on Cam Neely, Peter Chiarelli, and Claude Julien. Last year about this time with Kampfer cycling in and out as injuries took more experienced players out of the line up the Bruins Brass decided to sign a player who hadn’t played a single NHL in over a year. Adding depth isn’t a bad thing, no one could legitimately criticize adding a player familiar with the team and coach. But to add a player with that long a layoff, with a well known knee issue on top of limited mobility and then insert them into the lineup for less than four minutes of play over someone who worked their tail off all season, and who matched up much better in mobility with an opponent? That sends entirely the wrong message. Add in the struggles of Corvo and other defensemen and he got into just ten games before being shipped off?

Good luck in Minnesota Steve!

NHL All Star Events

One of the things that I think was missing from this years All Star Weekend was the the Young Stars game. I can understand not wanting a second game of shinny  on the weekend but given the importance of the NHL Entry draft. How about adding a prospect game. If not another top prospect game, how about putting on a game for the players on NHL Scouting Central’s Watch List? The energy level would be high, and fans would get a predraft introduction to some of the players who could be picked outside the top ten.  Better still, coaches, scouts, general managers could get a look at these players and take them from “off the radar” to “important mid round selection”. Another possibility is a USHL vs CHL  All Star game.

A staple of the Boston Bruins, perhaps even more than the “Big Bad Bruins” image, across the last several generations has been the quality of it’s defense. Park, Orr, Bourque and now Chara have anchored the blueline in particular and the franchise at large for far longer than I can remember. The supporting cast has included some high quality players who have gone onto success in other uniforms like Hal Gill who was key to the Penguins winning a Cup over the Red Wings and current Assistant General Manager and Head of Player Development Don Sweeney. It’s also included a number of players who had very short careers, none worth naming.

Most frustrating to some is the number of men who have been what can be politely termed “enigmas” and more accurately called players with erratic work ethic and highly varied attention spans. The Bruins roster currently contains three defensemen who defy observers the ability to easily quantify them. Over the course of their careers they have been good, bad and indifferent in no predicable pattern. Two of the three were part of the Bruins cup run last spring and were at apogee. The third was acquired this before the start of the season to fill the roster spot vacated by Tomas Kaberle.

First up is Joe Corvo. When Kaberle was not renewed, it was not entirely unexpected. Who his replacement turned out to be was. During his tenure here the most positive general assessment of him was that he didn’t turn the puck over nearly as often as people feared. I’ll go further and say he looked average defensively. Given his reputation as a soft, offensively minded puck mover that’s a compliment. Corvo, who was acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes who signed and have since traded Kaberle has been more effective offensively, but much, much worse defensively. His passes to the opponents have been every bit as accurate as the ones to his teammates and almost as frequent. Worse, despite the Bruins powerplay being noticeably more effective than the one he was employed on last year for the Hurricanes, he’s on pace for less points.  Given that the Bruins spent a fourth round pick on him, I guess they got what they paid for him. At least he’s an effective fighter.

Johnny Boychuk is in his third full season in with the Boston Bruins. Having passed the 200 game mark that has long been the standard for learning how to play in the NHL, it is safe to say he is what he is. On top of his more than two hundred regular season and playoff NHL games he had an extended career in the AHL where he piled up 373 games and won AHL defenseman of the year in 2009. The problem with the soon to be 28 year old is that he has regressed defensively. Offensively he’s likely to post his best NHL numbers this year, assuming Julien doesn’t bench him and he stays healthy. He’s considered an offensive defenseman by most and some will call him a two way defenseman. The problem is that he’s not displayed any particular gift offensively, or defensively. This season despite being part of the leagues number one offense he’s ranked 115th for defensemen in points. By comparison, Andrew Ference who is a defensive defenseman first and plays fewer minutes is ranked 57th in points for defensemen. His ill advised offensive pinches and turnovers have cost the Bruins on more than one occasion.

The most worrisome of the treacherous trio is Dennis Seidenberg. Last year he was the breakout star of the Bruins. Thomas had a resurgence, Marchand was a close second but the German defenseman was the heirloom sword cleaving offensive rushes with unseemly ease. In the playoffs he ratcheted his play up still further. While the media (justifiably) focused on Tim Thomas, if there was an award for defensive excellence it would rightfully have his name on it. But that’s not been typical of Seidenberg in his career. Drafted in 2001 he spent most of the next season in the Flyers lineup, regressed to the AHL the next year, was jettisoned to the Coyotes and spent most of his NHL time a marginal depth defenseman. The Bruins are his fifth team, and he’s played more than 75 NHL games just once since being drafted. Injuries have played a part in his journeyman career, as have time with franchises on extremely limited budgets. But one has to ask which is the real product, the guy we saw in the playoffs last spring? Or the one who this season is getting caught out of position with dismaying regularity. All players have a peak they hit and then quickly or slowly edge away from. Is this fatigue? It it his defense partner? Or are the three wrist injuries,  injuries to both knees, concussion and broken leg taking their toll?

There is just over a month before the trade deadline. With the goaltenders covering up many mistakes for these defensemen Peter Chiarelli and Cam Neely may just look to tweak their defense sooner rather than later. Both Boychuk and Corvo are unrestricted free agents this summer. Many would move one or both of them between now and the deadline rather than lose them to free agency over the summer or accept pennies on the dollar for trades at the draft, assuming its possible to do so then for either. Perhaps it’s just fatigue and a day or two off allowing Steve Kampfer, David Warsofvsky or Kevin Miller a few reps at the NHL level is the balm for what ails them. Whatever the solution is if it isn’t employed soon the Bruins who sit just one point above the Ottawa Senators heading into today’s action could find themselves looking up at someone in the standings for the first time in a long time.

This is the final write up on 2011 the previous posts covering 3-4, 5-7, 8-10.

Number two: Stanley Cup

After four decades, the Cup was brought home to the Causeway. No city in America has hungered for a championship at this level. The other three teams in town had won recently. The entire career of the legendary Ray Bourque was allowed to elapse without a Stanley Cup. Adam Oates, Cam Neely, Andy Moog all passed time in the spoked-b and never got a parade. Don Sweeney played and went to the front office rising in the ranks and helping young players reach the NHL. Claude Julien weathered years, and years of constant criticism by fans, former coaches, players running away to play elsewhere in the division.

To win the Cup, all the Bruins had to do was overcome major concussions to three of their top six forwards. They only needed to integrate three new players from three different teams and systems. They only needed to overcome a powerplay that was the worst in history. They only needed to overcome the top offense in the NHL, smother Stamkos, St Louis, the Sedins. It was just a small matter of overcoming Dwayne Roloson,  Vezina nominee Roberto Luongo, Selke winner Ryan Kesler, arch rivals the Montreal Canadiens. Along side all of that they had to overcome history. Multiple failures, non more spectacular or recent than their collapse to the Philadelphia Flyers the year before.

But they did all of it. They won. The captain who’s leadership was questioned. The goalie who was doubted and discarded. A forward group who was ridiculed right, left and center for lacking a true superstar. A coach who averaged 100+ point seasons but had been fired across the conference. The general manager shredded in public for getting “no return” on Kessel. The ownership constantly mocked for spend thrift ways. From Jeremy Jacobs to the least of the assistants getting the locker rooms, practice facility and travel arrangements ready to Julien, the scouts, Bergeron, Thomas, Marchand, Chara and all the rest. One team, one quest, one goal one cup.

Number One: Reaching For Dynasty

Repeating as champion in any sport is difficult. You need to beat the odds, not once, but twice. Even if you’re skilled you need to be healthy. If you have chalked up luck, skill and health there is still the question of heart. As we’ve seen in teams in hockey, and in other sports luck all by itself only gets you so far. All the skill in the world can only carry a team to the cusp of greatness.  The Bruins had all those elements at once, and the will to seize the opportunity in front of them. They did.

In the salary cap era, no team has managed to repeat. No back to back championships for any NHL team. The Detroit Red Wings came closest, but in that last gasp against the Penguins it all slipped away. They’ve drifted further and further from the top each year as health, and heart slip away. The Penguins had an enormous fire sale after winning the Stanley Cup in their second straight trip to the finals. The Chicago Blackhawks cap handling issues were so well known that everyone knew this was the one shot they had to make good on the dream. Their firesale was in such dire need they couldn’t even wait for the team to have all the players have their day with the Stanley Cup. More than half the roster was turned over. The Bruins don’t find themselves in any of those situations.

The Boston Bruins started their follow up season with almost the same roster they won the cup with. Just three players gone. One who didn’t fit. One who was aging and retired. A third was talented but not part of the core. A lucky strike in free agency added to the treasure trove of talent. Resigning a critical RFA was immense. Contributions from the farm system also helped. Today, six months after winning the last horn sounded in Vancouver, the Boston Bruins are a better team than they were. Because there was so little change and so much hope, despite the soul sucking hangover of the early season, the teams sellout streak continues, other teams have to play up to them. The odds say they are the best, their scoring and defense say so as well. The standings don’t add doubt. The standings, the odds, the skill the heart, and championship roster await only health, luck and opportunity to win it all again. That makes the reach for dynasty the best of 2011.

Its been two days since the Bruins went out and began the best revenge. Horton is probably still in the hospital, and likely won’t even be able to watch the rest of the series. When the second period opened in game three with a Ference point blast, and continued with a  and shorthanded goal the Vancouver Canucks were knocked from the high horse they’d ridden through the first two games of the series.

The next two goals, and particularly the final three sent the horse skittering down the trail and got the Canucks far enough off their game they never regained form, even when they scored their lone goal. The teams intangibles were the biggest differences coming in. The Bruins however have shown, in game three, during the season most notably against the Habs and the Stars that they can play with focused aggression and win against teams that are a tough matchup. If they can keep the Canucks from remounting and riding over the depleted Bruins.

The Canucks simply can’t sustain the physicality and play their active but gritless game. The Bruins are capable of going to the goal with blood on their mouths, bruises on their eyes and potting dirty goals to dime pieces when they are focused. What they can’t do is use the Rome and Burrows incidents, nor the huge win in game three as a license to take stupid penalties. Their is no doubt in the minds of anyone hockey fan the referees will, with or without supplemental instruction, seek to strangle any stupidity at birth. I doubt anyone would be surprised to see a ten minute misconduct in the first period for anything that looks like it might open the door to mayhem.

In the end, when the final horn sounds it won’t matter to most of the fans or the history books if the Bruins go out and win the game, and maybe, just maybe the series for pride, for vengeance, for the fans who’ve waited so long, for Cam Neely who never did, for the history of it, or just because the Canucks failed. As a fan of the game, the team, and to the players, I doubt that I’m alone in wanting them to win it, even if only in part because they decided to be Horton’s Heros.

Everyone knew coming into this game that the Toronto Maple Leafs were not merely hungry, but ravenous. The Bruins were coming in off a pasting of the Chicago BlackHawks. The two teams have traded back and forth over the years with the two most recent ones being blockbusters with Kessel going north in the first and Kaberle coming south in the second.
The Maple Leafs got a pair of lucky bounces that while the result of hard work, were never going to be drawn up on any coaches board. The Bruins battled well after the first fifteen minutes, with several players looking very good, some looking like it was morning skate, and one player looking like he wasn’t sure why he was on the ice. Marchand showing his heart, hustle and skill by blowing past the Maple Leafs defender and scoring a shorthanded goal. Michael Ryder who had been scratched several games and came back and played well, not just for a contract but like he wanted to win. Lucic was pugnacious getting in Komisareks face and eventually dropping the gloves with career bench warmer Jay Rosehill.
The problem player, and the problem that failed to be addressed at the trade deadline was Thomas Kaberle, and the powerplay. Zero for five on the powerplay with a guy billed as one of the best powerplay quarterbacks and puckmoving defensemen in the NHL. The truth is that Kaberle isn’t that good, and the Bruins powerplay is worse than it was when he arrived and worse than last season with Mr. Maybe-Sometimes and without Marc Savard for most of the year. Kaberle has exactly as many powerplay goals as he does shorthanded ones, which as you probably guessed is zero. As an “offensive dynamo” you’d expect him to have more game winning goals on the season than someone who gets pitched into the net more often than he scores like Mark Stuart, but nope they each have one.
Since his acquisition we’ve been shown little to justify the price that was paid to get him. He was the last of the three trade pieces to score a goal, and did it against Alex Auld who had been on the ice all of three minutes in relief. Early in the game  he failed to perform a simple clear and made a better setup for his protege Luke Schenn than he has for any of his current team mates.  Tonight, in overtime, on a powerplay, in the last minute of play, Kaberle turned to retrieve a puck that  had been cleared by the team some people aren’t sure he knows he’s been traded from, and went up the ice at a pace Gordie Howe could probably still surpass going backwards. That’s not a winning player, that’s not winning hockey, that’s not what the Bruins needed.
Instead of Chris Kelly who’s been largely invisible, and Kaberle who’s picture should adorn a dictionary entry for ineffectual. If the front office had had the manhood to go after Chris Stewart, then of the Avalanche, well, he has 20 points in 21 games since landing in Saint Louis, seven of those points are powerplay goals.Since they arrived, Kaberle has seven points, Peverley six, and Kelly 2. Presumably had the Bruins ponied up, Joe Colborne, a first round pick and a conditional second round pick as the did to get Kaberle ($4,300,000 per year), they could have grabbed Chris Stewart($2,500,000 per year) and possibly had the cap space to keep Mark Stuart instead of signing a guy who hadn’t played in 10 months, in Shane Hnidy. Chris Campoli (#1,400,000 per) would have been as worthy an addition as either Kaberle or Kelly.
So, who’s to blame for tonights loss? Not Ryder or Thomas, its neither Krejci nor Chara, Ference chipped in a goal, and McQuaid was impressive. If there is blame to be laid, and I don’t see how there couldn’t be, it goes Kaberle for being lazy, and unfit for high stakes hockey, Chiarelli for failing to recognize it, and Neely for allowing the trade to be made at all.

Today the Boston Bruins traded about six weeks of an expiring contract for two first round picks (one past, one future), and an additional conditional pick.  One of those first round picks was used to pick Joe Colborne, billed as “Jumbo Joe”, he has a similar although not as polished skill set as Joe Thornton. The other first rounder could be anyone, the only thing we know about them today is that whoever that pick is, they will be strengthening a division rival. Admittedly, as far as the Maple Leafs have to climb, it could take a while before they can threaten to take the division title.

In a separate trade, Blake Wheeler, the under performing former first round pick but undeniably talented forward picked up as a free agent, and first round draft pick Mark Stuart were sent to hockey exile in Atlanta where they will play in front of AHL sized crowds. In return Atlanta dumps a failed defenseman in Boris Valabik who’s sole claim to fame is having fought to and lost to countryman Zdeno Chara, and their forward with the second worst +/1 on the team, Rich Peverly.

So in exchange for four first round level picks today, the toughness and leadership of Stuart,  the Bruins get back a puck moving defenseman who’s goal scoring has dropped steadily for years in Thomas Kaberle with no guarantee he will be here past July 1st, an undrafted forward that doesn’t appear to know anything about the defensive zone, who is yet another center, and a guy who couldn’t stay on the Atlanta blueline when they were among the worst defensive teams in the entire NHL. They also got to strengthen a division rival, and remove two top penalty killers.

This is a colossal role of the dice, in the unlikely-in-the-extreme event I’m wrong, and Chiarelli and Neely are right I’ll be overjoyed at the Stanley Cup parade. As it stands now, that’s unlikely and I suspect more than a handful of general managers around the league are laughing out-loud over these trades.

These are awards strictly for members of the Boston Bruins, and picked by me.

The Jack Edwards Award for Most Exciting Interview.

Front Runner(s):

Blades The Bear, shows more excitement than anyone else when interviewed, and makes clear his energy level.

The Andy Brickley IQ Boost: awarded to the player with the most year over year improvement.

Front Runner(s):

Shawn Thornton has contributed with his fists per usual, but has a career high in goals as a well. He’s just three away from setting a new career high in points as well.

Tim Thomas, the jump from last years mediocre play to this is not just a result of a healthy hip and hand, he prepared better.

Brad Marchand leads the Bruins in short handed points, and is the best performing rookie on the team. He’s played a game less than Seguin, seen negligible powerplay time, and has passed Seguin in points. On top of that his +/- went from a -3 last season to a +14 at the halfway point.

The Ray Bourque Award for Consistent Excellence:

Front Runner(s):

Patrice Bergeron. He’s currently leading the Bruin’s in points, and is near or at the top of the chart any way you break them down: Even Strength, Short Handed, Powerplay. He get’s it done in all three zones, and does pretty much everything at a high level.

Tim Thomas, leads the NHL in shutouts, GAA, Sv% and added two assists. While there are guys ahead of him in wins, all have played more  games.

Don Sweeney Standing in Shadow Award, going to the most under appreciated player.

Michael Ryder, he leads the team in powerplay goals, yes he has a -3 overall, but 42% of his production is on the powerplay.

Dennis Seidenberg, is number eight in the league in blocked shots, and less than half the guys in front of him have more goals than he does. He’s also second in scoring among Bruin’s defensemen.

The Bam Bam Cam Power Forward of the Year for the power forward that uses all his tools to help the team.

Front Runner(s)

Nathan Horton, has three fighting majors already this season, and is high on the goal scoring ranks, throws the body and when healthy is visible in all three zones.

Milan Lucic, the comparisons to Cam Neely started early and haven’t really stopped. They also haven’t really panned out. This season they just might. He currently leads the team in goals, and is second overall in points.

More awards may be added as the season goes on.

Coaching B+, the Bruins are first in an admittedly thin division. They are six points out of first in the east. The two biggest areas of opportunity on the ice as far as pure execution are the powerplay, and the shootout. True, any game that’s decided in the shootout might as well be decided by a coin toss, but it still important to the standings. The powerplays biggest failures this season have been: Marc Savard when both absent and on the ice and  David Krejci. Neither has a powerplay goal this season.

Relatively speaking Savard has been the better of the two on the powerplay putting up his two assists in his 19 games, while Krejci has played all 41 and accumulated the same two assists. Savards weaknesses have been clearly recognized and addressed. In recent years he’s been a part of the penalty kill on a regular basis, this season he’s not seen more than a couple minutes of time short handed. Krejci on the other hand spent most of the first half between Horton and Lucic while they lead the team in goals, and still didn’t manage many goals of his own even with those two drawing a lot of attention.

For comparison, Milan Lucic who hardly saw the powerplay units from anywhere but the bench before this season has 2 goals and 4 assists with the man advantage this season. Michael Ryder, has been leveraged and is the powerplay stud, seven goals and four assists while fifth in PPTOI isn’t too shabby for someone who was expected to be in Providence or bought out.

Even as weak as the powerplay has been for stretches this year, its been incomparably better than last years edition, while Savard’s injury was bad for him and the team then, I’m not sure it’s as bad for the team now as it has been for him. Last year when Savard went down, no one knew how to be the powerplay general. In the past several months, Bergeron, Recchi, and Ryder of grown into the role, and currently stand as the top three in powerplay points for the team. Even with all the criticism one can level at the powerplay, it is still clicking along better than last years edition.

Goaltending has been handled very well, the current consensus pick for the Vezina and Hart candidate, has had the lions share of the work  and been spelled by a guy who has played in fits and starts, getting more play in denser parts of the schedule and less in lighter runs.  Not surprisingly the Bruins once again own the goals against category.

Goal scoring. Last season the Bruins were dead last in this category, for most of the seasons they’ve been in the low teens, and today sit in tenth.

Management: C+, not a lot done during the quarter. Good soldier Marco Sturm was shipped out for the cost of several pieces of fax paper and in return the Bruins received only cap space. Two young defensemen were called up, and it looks like both trades from late last year are working out well, as Kampfer has probably earned his way into the top six even if everyone is ever healthy again, and Bartkowski didn’t look out of place against the high flying Penguins.

They also made a pair of minor league moves shuffling off players who will clearly never make the Boston Bruins for a couple players who may never make the Boston Bruins and a draft pick.

With Marco Sturms tenure with the Bruins laying firmly in the crosshairs of the salary cap, injuries and the surprising play of others, it was only a matter of time before the trigger was pulled. Before you get overwhelmed by the Bruins not so many woes, let’s take a look at some of those woes.

Woe 1) The Bruins need better defense.

Sure, being the best in the NHL, in a conference with five (six if you count Lucic) of the top goal scorers, and six of the top goal scoring teams is clearly a sign of faulty defense. I’m not sure why any mobs haven’t already strung up Peter Chiarelli, Claude Julien, Geoff Ward and the rest of the Bruins management, Cam included. Atrocious.

Woe 2) The Bruins want a puck moving defenseman.

Well, so do 29 other teams in the NHL, and probably every other team in every other hockey league on the planet. Every little girl on the planet wants a pony too, that doesn’t mean they need one. With very few exceptions, puck moving defensemen (once called two way defensemen) are the streaky wingers of the blueline. Of the defensemen who were in the top five for points last season, none are currently in the top five, and only Duncan Keith is in the top ten. He’s a -7 on the year. The Chicago BlackHawks have scored about one eighth of a goal more per game, and allowed just under a goal per game.

Woe 3) The Bruins aren’t scoring enough!

This is nearly legitimate. When the Penguins last won the Cup, they headed into the post season having scored twenty three goals more than they allowed. In other words they had a +23. Today, right now the Bruins sit with a +25. With their top play-maker Marc Savard having spent time on the shelf, and not back to full capacity yet, and with David Krejci missing time being 11th in the NHL with just a few percentage points separating them from ten is a nice place to me. I can’t imagine guys like Lucic, Bergeron, Chara, Savard being complacent and not wanting to get into the top ten, or even the top five before the end of the season.

Woe 4) Why aren’t they doing anything with all the cap space?

Even with Sturm gone, the Bruins are still pretty tight to the cap. The reason for moving him, and not the salary of a slightly higher paid winger was that they didn’t want to rock the boat. You may not have noticed, but the Bruins have scored more goals, and allowed less than anyone in their division. This is considered by a few people to be a winning formula. While Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe reports, there were Dallas Stars scouts at the Philadelphia and Buffalo games, I’d be surprised to see anything huge come out of it. The west is so tight this year, that I’ll be amazed if we know anything more than which teams won’t make the playoffs before the final week or two of the season. If something does happen I wouldn’t be surprised if it was something like C, D to Dallas, W, Pick to Boston.