The only original six matchup of the first round could send the victor to a second round matchup with another original six team. For now the Boston Bruins, the team that has dominated the east for the last few years faces off with the Detroit Red Wings the model franchise of the west for many years. The contrast in syles, club directions, and cities couldn’t be greater. One similarity is that both teams have enormous, passionate fans all over the globe. You can’t follow either the team on the road and not spot jerseys for the visitors and hear the chants urging them on.

Boston Bruins

The Bruins did something they haven’t done in a while, finished the regular season with home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. They have had a lot of turnover since they last raised Lord Stanley’s Cup; gone are Michael Ryder, Andrew Ference, Rich Peverley, Tim Thomas, Mark Recchi, Tomas Kaberle, and Tyler Seguin. In their place are Reilly Smith, Jarome Iginla, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Dougie Hamilton, Loui Erikson. The structure is the same, the mind behind the bench unchanged but the attributes of the men in the spoked-B is rather different.

Best Players

Patrice Bergeron who scored the cup clinching goal not long ago has had his second highest goal scoring season, Zdeno Chara is still the best shutdown defenseman in the league. Jarome Iginla enjoyed yet another 30 goal season, Tuukka Rask had stellar numbers, and David Krejci and Milan Lucic are proving it almost doesn’t matter who is on their line that they will succeed with whoever.

X-Factor

The young Bruins have to stay focused on the very quick, highly talented stars of the Wings and not be dazzled or rattled by Datsyuk, Zetterberg (if he plays) or otherwise fall into Babcock’s inevitable plan to pull the Bruins out of their physical, space denial game.

 

Detroit Red Wings

It was an open question if the Red Wings would make it into the playoffs at all. The fact that they did means Mike Babcock is likely to come up short on votes but still have a great claim to the Jack Adams award for best coach. This roster was riven with injuries, is aging, and no one would have been surprised if their playoff streak finally expired. The good news for the Red Wings is that the Bruins are a good matchup for them.

Best Players

Pavel Datsyuk is not the man he was five years ago, but he is still capable of breath taking plays. Gustav Nyquist was an unknown a fistful of months ago, today he’s the guy who led the Red Wings in goal scoring despite playing just 57 games. Kronwall is one of the best hitters in the NHL and woe to anyone who doesn’t keep their head up. Daniel Alfredsson at 41 is still showing there’s gas in the tank and led the team in scoring, his 121 NHL playoff games, with 100 points in them, is more than many of the Boston Bruins defense total NHL games.

X-Factor

With the injuries they’ve suffered, and the ones they will no doubt collect in the opening games, can this team hang with a deeper squad that is just as well coached? This team had one player crack 20 goals in a Wings uniform, while the opponent had two cross 30 and two more over 20. If as the road team Babcock can consistently create the right matchups to win the series, it will be his finest coaching job to date.

When the season opens if all goes  according to the master plan of Peter Chiarelli and Cam Neely, the Boston Bruins will look less like they did last season, and more like they did when they ran the table and collected Lord Stanley’s Cup. In the past two seasons the Boston Bruins had a clear split between the top two lines and what they contributed, and the second six and what the contributed.

Despite Daniel Paille burring tha line, and playing up and down the lineup as injuries and inconsistency crippled top six effectiveness at time  you don’t need to look much further than average time on ice for the forwards to see who did what and match up their scoring contributions. Chris Bourque failed to lockup a roster spot despite an extended stay in the lineup, he just couldn’t make the leap to the NHL. In what many expected to be his final dance with the Boston Bruins, Jordan Caron showed heart, commitment and little of the finishing that the team so desperately needed throughout the season. Of Lane McDermid, Jay Pandolfo, and Kaspars Daugavins the best that can be said of them is that the tried. Both Ryan Spooner and Carl Soderberg get a pass as their appearances were so curtailed, they spent as much time going over the boards as on the ice.

This year, the goal is a different composition. Adding Soderberg late last year, bringing in Iginla and Eriksson this year, and pushing prospects like Ryan Spooner, Jared Knight, Alex Khoklochev, Matt Fraser, Seth Griffith, and Alex Fallstrom to come to camp ready to compete for a Calder trophy. It is likely two of these players will fill in the third line, and extra forward slots.

A potential opening night third line (left to right)  is Chris Kelly – Carl Soderberg – Alex Fallstrom/Jared Knight. Its equally possible one or more of these young men will be traded before the puck drops for real.

Depending on how Claude Julinen wants to build the top two lines, and given the versatility of both Loui Eriksson and Brad Marchand, the lines could look very different from last year. Both Jarome Iginla and Loui Erikssn have mentioned a desire to play with Patrice Bergeron.

It is entirely possible we could see lines like:

Eriksson – Bergeron – Iginla

Lucic – Krejci – Marchand

Those trios would provide lines similar to the formerly successful grouping of Lucic, Marc Savard and Phil Kessel with speed and a willing shooter on the right, an offensive minded center, and Milan Lucic’s raw physicality and willingness to go anywhere and take the puck. The Bergeron line above would give Iginla and Eriksson the ability to go full steam  offensively at will, and leave the most defensively responsible forward on the roster to aid the blueliners. Regardless of how the top six shakedown, the Boston Bruins have five guys who either have or have the potential to score 30 goals. The only one of the six who hasn’t come close to 30 or passed it is Krejci and counting defensemen and powerplay time, he has a legitimate shot at 60 to 65 assists this season.

Last year Boston Bruins slipped from near the top of the NHL in scoring, to middle of the pack. A little more depth, a little more finishing ability, a touch more hunger, and maybe more maturity might have taken them past the Chicago Blackhawks and on to their seventh Stanley Cup. Clearly fans were not the only ones to notice the drop, and equally clearly the Boston brain trust believe  they’ve addressed the issues.

Via Renaud Lavoie Jarome Iginla will or would waive his no movement clause for the Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings, and Chicago Blackhawks, and the Pittsburgh Penguins. A quick look at the offenses of the teams has Pittsburgh at the top of the NHL, the Blackhawks a close second, while the Los Angeles Kings and Boston Bruins are treading water in 12th and 13th place in goals per game.  Chicago is ranked as having the deepest prospect pool by Hockey’s Future, while the Flames system is weak overall on depth, particularly at right wing.

Another coach firing on a teach with an ECHL roster lightly-speckled with NHL talent. When the Tampa Bay Lightning went to the Eastern Conference Finals two years ago, two things got them there, one was Dwayne Roloson, the other was Guy Boucher. Both of them are gone, and both were highly under rated for the jobs they did. If a dispersal draft were done on Lightning today, its an open question how many of their players would be picked and retained both other teams. It 31 games into the season and they have just one player to score more than 10 goals, and that player also has the second worst +/- on the team. Career backup Garon has the teams best sv%, depth center Nate Thompson is arguably the best defensive player on the whole roster, and none of the decisions that got them onto the clubs payroll happen at the coaches level. Guy Boucher goes out the door, in another time and place Steve Yzerman would be tossed out a window.

The CHL playoffs are under way and Fang Faction has taken a look a Predators prospects in the playoffs.

David Krejci is drawing heat is the Boston Bruins continue to tread water in fourth place in the east.

The North American Hockey League is producing some Division One NCAA, the Brookings Blizzard announced there’s Aidan Cavallini and you can get the rest of the leagues commitments right here.

And as we roll closer and closer to that most wonderful day of the year Draft day, a look at the US National Development Team is looking toward its own future of smiling eyes and wide smiles.

There are some teams that just aren’t going anywhere this season no matter how well they do in the regular season. For some, just getting run out of town in the first round of the playoffs will be a moral victory. But let’s be honest; moral victory is just another way of saying we aren’t good enough for the real kind, and we aren’t going to try. Not all of the teams with players on this list fall into the category of non-contenders, some have to make room under the falling cap.

Victor Fasth: What an amazing start to an NHL career. The Ducks new netminder has won his first 8 (and counting?) starts in the NHL. This would be far less amazing if he were playing behind a team that showed it was a playoff contender. The other two guys to get off to a start like this are Ray Emery who is worthy of every accolade for endurance and determination to stay in the NHL, neither he nor Bob Froese are going to make it into the top 50 list of goaltenders one would build a franchise around.

Joe Pavelski: Fourteen games into the season “Little Joe” has 14 points. Unfortunately he’s is only got two of those in his last six games. If he were Russian the terms from up north would be stronger than the “inconsistent” I’ll use. With 1/3rd of his goals on the powerplay this season, and for his career, maybe a change of scenery could get this player to the next level. With two more years on a reasonable contract he could help a team that will really contend over the top. His career high 31 goal season last year, and his fast start this year might just get a team to bite.

Martin St. Louis: While I don’t see his quality of play crashing anytime soon, he is the best trade piece the team has for a long term improvement. The team is 24th in goals against, familiar territory for the Lightning. With two years left on his deal, if he can be persuaded to waive his NMC, the return could be gigantic. Lecavalier is untradeable at his current production, trading Stamkos is absolutely a laughable idea, but St Louis could return the right picks or players to shore up an awful defense in front of their solid goaltender. For the undrafted Catamount Alumni he might just get to hoist Lord Stanley if he lands in the right place.

David Krejci: As we all know most forwards peak between 26-28 years of age, then begin to decline and often first liners at 24 are 3rd liners not to long after they peak, assuming they are still in the NHL at all. David Krejci turns 27 on the day after the season ends. He’s off to a point per game pace, he’s shooting well with a career high 17.4%, he’s completely healthy, and he’s the highest paid forward on the Boston Bruins this year. As Stanley Cup champion, a decent faceoff man, and a top 10-15% passer, he’s got value. There are teams up and down the league that can use an offensive center. With cost certainty built in for two more years he’s not much of a risk for teams who need to juice their offense.

Andrei Markov: With a quarter of the season gone, Markov has proved, finally, that for the first time since 2008-9 season that he is indeed healthy. Sell, sell now! He played 13 games last season, he played seven the year before. Those are Rick Dipietro numbers. On top of the questions of health he is somehow the teams highest paid skater. Yes he’s produced, he’s gotten hit and delivered hits, he’s blocked shots too. But be smart, make him someone else’s problem the next time he ends up on the shelf for an extended stretch.

Thomas Vanek: As constituted the Buffalo Sabres are about as likely to win the Stanley Cup this season as are the Colorado Avalanche, Winnipeg Jets or Calgary Flames. While Vanek has never even approached the 12g 13a 25p in 15gp pace. Despite being on a team that has had no playoff success in his tenure, Vanek has produced a point per game pace in the playoffs over a 10 game appearance in the 2006-07 year. People, possibly including Terry Pegula, are coming to the conclusion that the current Sabres mix is not configured to win. Vanek, could net even more than Nash. Vanek has, despite scant little more success and being surrounded by middle draft picks to Nash’s high end picks, it is Vanek and not Nash who has the better (slightly) points per game percentage: 0.83778 to 0.81222. Best of all, Vanek is $600,000 cheaper per year.  For the Sabres moving him before the deadline with just one year left on his contract lets them maximize their return and take a long look at more of their prospects and or whoever they get in return.

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.

Joe Thornton is the name of the day. For those who someone missed it, he’s still one of the best centers in the game. He’s got a 200 foot game, plays physically, and nearly as dirty as Sidney Crosby or Danny Briere at times. He skates well, is one of the three best passers of the last 30 years, and he’s never won a cup.

Some teams and how he’d fit in:

  • Boston: a full circle story with him going back almost certainly means a trade package like Krejci,  Spooner or Khoklachev, O’Gara, a 1st and likely another prospect or pick goes back. If the roster isn’t ripped up too much he’s likely the cure for what ails the teams powerplay. He’s done the major hockey market media before so the adjustment would be slight, and he likely still knows his way around the North end.
  • Nashville: This is almost the perfect landing spot for him. Even if half the fanbase hated him yesterday, him landing their tomorrow in the wake of the defection of Suter and the Weber scare means they have not just a high end player to fill out the roster but a face for the forwards and a tutor for the young prospects in the system.
  • Chicago: while their search has been for a  second line center, this might just fill the whole. Kane, Hossa, Sharp and the other wingers probably wouldn’t complain too much about second line minutes next to him. 
  • Calgary: Jarome Iginla has never had a legit top line center to play with. Joe Thornton would be that. The Flames may not have what is needed to ship back in return, but career years for both as a duo aren’t out of the realm of possibility. 
  • Phoenix: The desert dogs are so far under the cap floor they’ve probably got mushrooms growing on their heads. Even if they added Thornton without sending back a single roster player they would still be almost two and a half million under the floor. Throwing Thornton down as an inducement to keeping Doan would probably help a tiny bit. 
  • Florida: If there’s one thing we know about Dale Tallon it is that he is not afraid to pull the trigger on a big trade. The Panthers need a good center, they also have one of Thornton’s buddies, Bryan Campell who stayed at Thornton’s place after being traded out of Buffalo. 
Obviously the pending CBA negotiations are going to be a big factor, especially for teams paying closer to the cap floor than the ceiling, but it should not be forgotten that Joe Thornton does have a NTC/NMC. If Jumbo Joe does get moved, it will likely be the biggest trade of the offseason. Yes, bigger than the possible Bobby Ryan or the just elapsed shuffling of Nash to the Rangers. Both are younger than Thornton, and talented, but neither has the potential to impact the game at the same level. 
Whoever is going fishing in the shark tank should be dangling, forwards, draft picks, forwards and more forwards. The Sharks one strength in terms of prospects is on the backend. Their forward pool is nothing to brag about, and years of trading for established talent and playoff finishes have left them drafting in the bottom half of each round each year for about a decade.

The Bruins have been one of the much rumored most interested and or best bidding in the suitors for Bobby Ryan since word came out that he was disgusted by being scapegoated for the last two or three seasons. It is hard to look at his career and not imagine what a boon he could be any team. Four full NHL seasons, four 30+ goal seasons. Big body. Willing hitter. Accurate shooter. Willing to drop the gloves.

But for a team like the Boston Bruins who have a top five offense, he isn’t necessary. Particularly not if it involves mortgaging the future. The next two drafts will hold some quality defensemen the Bruins should not cost themselves opportunities at. First round picks should be off the table in any trade discussions. If you ask seven serious Bruins observers how many of the defensive prospects in the Bruins system have a strong chance at playing top 3 minutes for the Bruins, the list will be quite short. The list that everyone agrees on might not exist at all.

If we put discussion of Hamilton and Krug on the shelf my list  it isn’t very long and two of them are college players. Either of them could wash out, likely both are three to four years away. Looking at the AHL and ECHL players some have been called up and looked not anywhere near ready, others have been in the system several years and never gotten called up. Then there are the guys fresh out of the very short college seasons. No few people would say these players will need two years of good health and lots of playing time just to be conditioned enough to play a major role in the NHL.

Going back to Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton the two have one thing in common. If you guessed size, please go find an eye doctor, and do have someone else drive you. Both are known best for their offensive contributions. If there’s one thing we know about Bruins fans, its that they expect defensemen to have a large component of defense in their game. Corvo, Kaberle (who is and was better than Corvo), Wideman, Montador and others have all been ridden out of town on a rail for their defensive deficiencies. Corvo’s vilification won’t be the last time, and it is unlikely either Krug or Hamilton would escape a similar fate if they don’t have at least an average defensive presence.

If the Bruins were to trade for Bobby Ryan they would be better served to move an extra forward, or even two in place of a first round pick in either of the next two drafts. Zdeno Chara has six seasons left on his contract, that means the window for him to mentor and develop high ceiling defensive prospects is pretty small. If someone like Seth Jones or one of the other well regarded defensive prospects is available, they need to be able to take him.

One of the most common proposals I’ve seen for Ryan is: Krejci, a 1st and a prospect. Switching out two seconds, or an additional forward prospect for that first round pick makes much more sense. It will give the forwards left in the system more ice to develop, and securing a player like Ryan means you can consider their roster spot filled for a good number of years.

The Krejci for X discussions across the Boston sports scene have never been hotter. Bobby Ryan is the current most lusted for player, but moving him, even for a good return creates issues of who slides into what position.

As we all know by now Chiarelli’s lust for drafting small skilled forwards is as great as making moves for defenseman no ones ever heard of. The problem isn’t so much a question of do we have someone else who can play center but a question of who makes the most sense. If this is “a bridge year” it almost doesn’t matter who is the other pivot. If the team is in “win now” mode or at least wants fans and media to believe it is, then it might matter a touch more. Off ice issues will have to be weighed in as well.P

The case for moving Seguin to center and putting him between Lucic and Horton is one that will likely make the rounds. The problem is all three can be regarded as shoot first players. I don’t claim to be the worlds foremost mathematician, but three shooters (not counting the defensive pair) and one puck doesn’t add up to well. Another consideration is that Seguin has so far shown to be indifferent at faceoffs. Moving Bergeron to between the two big bodies would put the maximum amount of size in the top nine forwards together, and they did look good together for stretches last year.

Moving either is less than desirable for another reason. Together the Selke winning Patrice Bergeron flanked by Brad Marchand and Tyler Sequin were the most consistent line on the team all season. Given the departure of Benoit Pouliot and assuming Krejci is indeed traded they could be the only trio of the top three lines to return.

Chris Kelly played the best hockey of his career last year and did some of it with Milan Lucic to his left. He’s never held a top or second line role for long since arriving with the Bruins. The same can be said for Rich Peverley who’s played up and down the Bruins lineup. Peverley’s offensive upside is a little bit higher, but he’s also had more health and consistency issues over his career. Plugging him into the pivot slot between Lucic and Horton would certainly improve both the speed and defensive quality of the line. Peverley has averaged top line type minutes in his career, but mostly at wing and not center and in Claude Julien’s system the center position is the lynchpin of transition, defense and offense.

There are also the AHL players and Juniors graduates. Ryan Spooner’s hands have been compared to Marc Savard. I’ll leave that comparison alone for a half decade or so, but say that they are pretty damn slick. Size and adjusting to the NHL are questions 1 and 1a, speed, skating, passing aren’t in question.  Carter Camper and Max Sauve both earned time in Boston last year, both have played the pro game, both have done well. Sauve’s durability is issue number one, but like Spooner is an excellent passer and has a ready shot. Camper is also on the small side, but led the Providence Bruins in scoring despite the time he spent in Boston.

Also to be considered is new acquisition Christian Hanson who’s half season of NHL games is more than just about all his competition combined. At 6’4 and 222 he’s got size to spare over any of the other claimants. Then there is Alex Khoklachev. The skilled Russian is in the same size range as Spooner, Sauve and Camper. He signed his entry level deal at the recent Boston Bruins development camp, and also signed a deal that would will take him to the KHL. The KHL contract is for one year, to the club his father is the manager of. If however he makes the Boston Bruins out of camp he stays here in North America.

Another possibility is trading for a skilled center who can play about as well in similar ice time as Krejci. A team like the Edmonton Oilers could certainly use some better depth defense, and the looming arbitration date with Sam Gagner lowers the likelihood they will retain him after that date. The Panthers barely used Mike Santorelli last year, and he would come with a low cap hit.

Also to be considered is sliding Greg Campbell up to the third line and sliding in either a rookie, Hanson, or Whitfield into the Merlot line. Campbell has done well in a Bruins uniform managing the heavy grinding role of the fourth line and the smart penalty kill minutes and making it look easy.

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.