With three games in the history books, the Stanley Cup Finals reaches the halfway point of possible games tonight. Each team has seen the other throw the best they have out there, each team has had players head down the tunnel and not come back.

Puck Possession:

While faceoffs are a key part of this, they aren’t the only component. The Blackhawks are not winning enough battles along the boards. They have plenty of big strong guys who should be able to go get the puck from smaller Bruins players like Ference, Marchand or Seguin, but we haven’t seen that. If you lose both the board battles and the faceoff war, you’re not going to win many games unless the other team has a truly bad goalie.

Passion versus Control:

Halfway through the first Kaspars Daugavins may have taken the stupidest penalty of the Bruins post season with a flagrant elbow he’s lucky didn’t see him sent to the dressing room. At the end of the third period of game three the nasty climbed out of the alleyways and onto the ice. Zdeno Chara and Bryan Bickell locked up and exchanged some leather and lather. Andrew Shaw and Brad Marchand went a little further and dropped the gloves before quickly joining them there.

Will we see a cleanly played series devolve into something where stupid penalties and reprisals break up the flow of the game. So far we’ve seen long periods of whistle free hockey, not just because of the abbreviated playoff rule book, but because both teams have played clean. If the emotional storm we saw in the fading minutes of game three continues, especially with frustration mounting for players like Toews who had a bit of a meltdown during the Red Wings series the penalty box could get quite cramped.

Rebounds and Follow Ups:

We’ve seen both goalies control a lot of the shots they face, when they haven’t that’s when we see goals. In game two, the first period goal on Rask was one that bounced off his glove twice in a sequence where he had to make five or six saves before allowing the goal. Game two didn’t see much in the way of rebounds, and even less of Blackhawks in the right spots to get to them.

Matchups:

As is often the case in the playoffs, it isn’t the star players doing most of the five on five scoring. This series has seen the Bruins new look third line of Paille-Kelly-Seguin has given the Blackhawks fit. It combines two of the Bruins three fastest forwards on the wings, and the solid passing, strong faceoff ability, and focused determination of Chris Kelly. If the Blackhawks have to pull Keith or Seabrook off of other duties to cover this line, it means they are likely opening up another can of worms.

At five on five, the Bergeron line has generated chances, but not much finish, likewise the Krejci line has had chances but little finish since Lucic’s two goals in game one. The Bruins need to take advantage of the Blackhawks relatively weak road game and perhaps send these two lines over the boards against different defensive pairs.

Injuries and Endurance:

We’ve seen Marian Hossa sit out a game, and Nathan Horton depart in overtime in this series. With thirteen periods of hard hitting, tight checking hockey played these two teams have already played more than four games of ice time against each other. We know neither of the two big bodied right wings is at 100%, we’ve also seen enough hits, bodies crashing into the boards or net, and simple fatigue to know there are likely to be two or three other players on each team who wouldn’t be playing if this were a regular season game.

The shell game Quenneville played with the Hossa injury and the Smith substitution can probably fill in one or two names for us there. For the Bruins, if we see Daugavins back in the lineup after some pretty poor play, you can’t help but wonder what type of shape Jordan Caron and the other black aces are in.

There are a lot of teams that need a lot of help. Some of them have more than enough depth at one position. Some teams just can’t draft a position to save their lives, and others have been taking the same commuter rail as Ozzy Ozbourne for decades. For the most part these players have more value elsewhere than on the team who currently holds their rights.

Marc Staal

If only this guy could stay healthy. He’s almost certainly a Norris quality defenseman equally capable in all three zones, a great skater, and the focal point of all bad luck for the New York Rangers. He’s been concussed by his own brother, taken shots to the face, and likely had his roster spot taken by one of the New York Rangers younger, cheaper nearly as good defenders. The team really needs to get by draft, trade or free agency a couple forwards with grit. Staal is a hell of trade piece. A team like the Oilers, Avalanche, or Red Wings would be able to offer up a substantial reward.

Matt Greene

The Kings mostly learned how to play, and play well without him last season. He’s got one year left on a modest deal. He hits like a freight train, and the Kings worked Muzzin, Martinec, Voynov and the rest hard. A team that needs physicality and dependability would be well served to snatch up this rugged blueliner. The Kings need to add speed up front if they want to win another Cup while there core is young and healthy.

Paul Stastny

Moving Stastny might require taking on a bad contract, or possibly retaining some of his salary. At his pay grade it is unlikely the Avalanche resign him as he hasn’t led the team in scoring since the 2009-10 season, and has likely been edged out of a top two line center position by Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly. There are a lot of teams with different (read effective) systems that could reinvigorate the 44th pick int he 2005 draft and inspire performances closer to his World Championship level of play.

Zach Bogosian

Yes, another defenseman who might be better off elsewhere. The Jets need to get better depth up front, and Bogosian is apparently looking for a little bit more money than the Jets 2.0 ownership is willing to pay him. He’s big, he’s mobile he’s got good offense, he shoots right, he’s got almost 300 NHL games experience and he’s only 22. A deal involving him should be counted as a major deal. He might or might not ever reach the level of Doughty or Pietrangelo, but even if he doesn’t I can’t think of an NHL blueline that couldn’t fit him in.

Nino Niederreiter

The speedy, skilled forward for the Islanders clearly isn’t part of the teams long term plans. With a year left on his entry level deal, and him not turning 21 until September the right wing is still a true prospect who might intruige another team enough to part with something the now playoff conteder Islanders need, like perhaps a goalie prospect or as part of trade deal for a quality NHL starting goaltender.

Jordan Caron

This guy has had several chances to make it in the Bruins system, and he plays well might even say really well away from the puck. However he’s got absolutely zero confidence playing in the NHL right now. If he can get into a system and be told at the start of the season “the third/second line right wing slot is yours” and count on getting 12-14 minutes a night on a regular line plus a little penalty kill time he can almost certainly still be a twenty goal man, penalty killer and regular NHL player. The Bruins are just a bit too deep at forward for him to get that luxury right now.

Most of the Bruins needs this year are depth needs, and none are the difference between the team making the playoffs next year and not. Long term they might be, and given the some of the players currently on the roster or in the system, they are still strong concerns.

1: Power Forward. If they can draft an NHL ready power forward that’s great. If they can pick one up at a reasonable price from another team, also good provided the player is under thirty, preferably under 25. The best of both worlds would be drafting one, and picking up an RFA or trading one for other prospects.

2: Two way defenseman. Dougie Hamilton has enormous gifts of reach, speed, size and shot. In two year of following his progress I’ve yet to see one person comment favorably on his defensive ability and that’s a problem the organization needs to address. At some point even athletes as well conditioned as Chara (age 35), Seidenberg (age 30) and Ference (age 33) either age out or price themselves out of the market. Without that defensive acumen the team would be back to the days when the best defenseman on the team would probably struggle to hold down the number four spot on a playoff team.

3: Size The two largest top nine forwards under contract for the Boston Bruins next season that finished this season healthy are Lucic and Bergeron. You can argue Caron’s place but even he’s not that large. The teams that are winning are all physically larger and more powerful than the Bruins. The defense isn’t much better off. Only three regular from last season are over 200lbs, and Torey Krug’s poise and speed aside he’s the smallest man on the team.

4: Hunger whoever is added, should have something to prove. Be it a scapegoat from another city, someone who fell short in the juniors or college, or maybe a long wayward prospect who’s finally ready to come over to North America to play. There’s entirely too many meek players on the team and not enough fire eaters.

5: Attitude no matter what the players brought in or promoted needs to be an every day player. Someone who will go out and play every game like ti might be their last. “Big game players” are a waste of 50+ games a year of ice time and money. The team has had those, and probably has at least one on the roster. Adding more turns the team into the Red Sox or something damn close to it.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Very low:

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

Low 1

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

Low 2

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

Medium

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

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

With the news that top line right wing Nathan Horton has taken a step back in his recovery we’re faced with two important concerns. The first is for Nathans health. I love hockey, I like watching him play when he’s ready to roll out a strong game. But there’s no player I want to see on the ice more than I want them to be able to function in daily life. If he has reached the point where that is threatened it is time for him to hang up the skates. He’s won a cup. He’s made some good friends on the team and elsewhere and he’s gotten the opportunity to see the world. He can retire content in how much he achieved, no one can doubt that the Bruins were a better team with him in the lineup. When he had his A game he was a monster, when he had his B game he was still a force. But is it time? Should he shut down for the rest of the season now and hope to return for the playoffs? Should he just go home now and start working out in late July towards a return in the fall? That’s something he, his doctors, family and the team have to decide.

The other key question is who do they replace him with. Cap space isn’t an issue unless they plan on adding Iginla and Carter. Even then, they could add a full 13 million without putting his salary on the LTIR, and that’s without putting Savard their either. Short term or long term replacement is part of the equation. Chris Stewart who I mentioned in a previous post may or may not be available. If he is, he’s just about perfect. He possibly needs a change of scenery, he’s aggressive, big bodied, can score and his contract expires at the end of the year.

David Jones of the Avalanche is another player who might need a change of scenery. Or possibly just reasonably healthy top centers to play with. He’s got an inexpensive contract as well and could possibly be had for no more than a prospect or middle round pick.

The Phoenix Coyotes have Shane Doan, Radim Vrbata and Ray Whitney who would all look pretty damn spiffy in a Bruins uniform. But I don’t see them being moved at all. The Coyotes enter play tonight still in 8th place. They have played more games than most of the west, but 8th place is still a playoff spot and as long as they have that, I don’t see a trade happening. I can’t picture them wanting to give the appearance of tanking on purpose.

Internally, I think it might be time to try Jordan Caron in a top line role. Give hims 17 or 18 minutes of time a night and see what happens. When he plays confidently he plays effectively. He’s proven an effective penalty killer and it is past time we found out what he can do with the opportunity to earn a top six role over a couple weeks time.

If depth is the desire and Horton is not expected back picking up one or two of the above and or the much rumored Tuomo Ruutu, the New York Islanders pending UFA P.A. Parenteau who like Horton is a right handed shot. For pure nostalgia, I’d bet Kobasew or Boyes could be had, but I can’t see them providing offense at a high enough level to justify a lot spent to get them. Given the chronically woeful state of Edmonton’s defense, sending out a prospect or two from the blueline that brought back Gagner or Paajarvi-Svensson would be win-win for both teams.

Whatever is decided, the drop dead date is the deadline. Much as I have faith at least one or two of the guys in Providence will turn into NHL guys, it doesn’t look it’s this year.

The Boston Bruins are broken. They may not be as badly off as the Columbus Blue Jackets or The Montreal Canadiens but like those teams they need someone to reach under the hood and switch out a few parts. The Bruins problems come under three main categories. None of the categories is all that deep, but they are all enough to damage the Bruins system and momentum.

Below peak performance:

The two players this is most true of are notable here simply for what they are capable of put haven’t done this season. The first is Nathan Horton. Unfortunately as we’ve seen with other concussed players there is no magic pep talk you can give to make the recovery go faster. How long it takes to recover both physically and mentally varies widely based in part on how severe the injury was, how it was suffered and the mental and physical health of the player. Before Tom Sestito hit that put Horton out we had started to see him climbing back into the top of the form that made him and Lucic such a scary combination to deal with. As of now it is unknown when Horton will play again which unfortunately waters down the Kelly line as well.

Johnny Boychuk is the other player failing to thrive. In his rookie season he played fifty-one games. As a rookie he averaged a shade over seventeen and a half minutes a night and pulled down 15 points or .29 points per game. This season, while playing as much even strength as he did total that year, he’s totaled nine points in 49 games .18 PPG which puts him on pace for a total of 13 should he play every game the rest of the season. That represents a 30% swing in productivity. Worse, he’s making the same poor choices he did as a rookie. One of those is dumping the puck into the offensive zone on an offside instead of retreating to the neutral zone and retaining control of the puck, he can be counted on to give up control of the puck.

Reversion to normal:

Benoit Pouliot had a couple magical weeks that made you see why he was drafted so high. It was fun to watch. You could see why teams keep hoping they have the magical coaching to turn him into a legitimate top six forward and consistent threat. Unfortunately it doesn’t appear that’s happened. Despite half of his eight goals being game winners, and a couple of them just plain pretty, and a better shooting percentage than last year, Pouliot is on pace for less points this year than last. Despite half a minutes more ice time, a better offensive team than last years and a  strong two months span, he’s playing here about like he did everywhere else.

Joe Corvo is the other player who is depending on your point of view either returning to form now or still playing the way he always has. Defensively he absolutely is worse than Kaberle. He turns the puck over at least twice a game regular as a metronome regardless of what the real time stats say. He’s aggressive enough in the defensive zone in any category that doesn’t count attempting to force bad outlet passes. His body and stick don’t do much to move the puck out of danger areas, nor does he attack the opposition attempting to pry the puck loose or force them to go around him. His shot is impressive when he uncorks it, I just don’t see the total package justifying playing time.

Unclear roles:

With the Pouliot experiment, and the issues with Horton, Corvo and Boychuk other players have been forced into roles that are clear as mud. For Jordan Caron and Zach Hamill, the constant in and out of the lineup, or trips up and down the roster can’t have helped them adjust. During one two week span Hamill for example played fourth line center, first line left wing, second line right wing and bounced through all three positions on the third line. Caron who broke camp with the team was flipped in and out of the lineup for Pouliot a number of times when arguably he was the better player but the distinction was clearly a very fine one. To date, Caron has played as many games in the AHL as the NHL, and spent just nearly as many in the pressbox. One can’t help but wonder how much further along these two would be if they played consistently.

Less noticeably, but just as perplexing is Steve Kampfer’s for the most part non-play. He did injure himself early in the season but was skating with no limitations long ago. With the inconsistent play of Corvo and Boychuk (among others) it seems odd it would take a suspension to Ference for him to get into action again. While neither has been exactly impressive offensively, in half the ice time and spotty play Kampfers points per game is slightly higher than Boychuks. In a lineup with Shawn Thornton, Adam Mcquaid, Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic and several others it’d be hard to put either Kampfer or Corvo into list of most intimidating players, Kampfer is more likely to throw a good hit, and turns the puck over less. He may or may not be as offensively gifted but he’s clearly more active and more aggressive defensively, more importantly he shows his hunger to be on the ice every night when he laces the skates up.

None of the Bruins problems are insurmountable. Equally true none of them will fix themselves. You can’t expect to win consistently with two thirds of your defense playing erratically, and while trying to use a marginal third line player as a key component on the powerplay. That is not how this team is built, it is not how they win. No further proof is needed than a look at their record of the last ten games: 4-5-1. Three of those regulation losses have come to the basement dwelling Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes and the Ovechkin-less bubble team Capitals.

One of the consistencies of the Chiarelli regime in Boston has been him pulling off trades and free agent pickups that no one expects. With the exceptions of moving Kessel and the even more talked about, rumored, and agitated for Kaberle trade most of his acquisitions have been very under the radar. Adam Mcquaid, picked up for not much. Boychuk, Kelly, Peverley, Kampfer, no bank heists needed to fund these pickups either. Joe Corvo, one fourth round pick sent south, To varying degrees these trades have all either worked out well or at worst not been a detriment.

But if ask anyone if they expected Aaron Ward to be traded back to Carolina or Derek Morris to be either picked up or traded away less than a season later, most people would just say no. This year the major speculation revolves around the forward lines and who can and can’t be parted with. The consensus pick for who was being dangled as tradebait has been Zach Hamill, he of the fairly watery 2007 draft class. With all the players who ill hit free agency, and barring his most recent game Hamill’s solid performance this year highlighted by a glaring inability to look out of place on a Stanley Cup champion roster, its hard to leave the Everett Silvertip alumni along on that pedestal.

Another addition to the “we can probably get something useful for him” list has been former Rimouski Oceanic star Jordan Caron. He’s a big body, he’s defensively responsible, and he’s recently displayed some willingness to stick up for his teammates. Unfortunately he’s a touch lacking in confidence, and has not been able to stick in the lineup.  A change of scenery where a team paid him the compliment of pursing him might all that’s needed to turn him into a regular top six contributor.

What has me questioning either Caron or Hamill as the most likely candidates for trade are some facts that come together neatly. First, Zach Hamill was (like half the forwards in the Bruins system) drafted at center but was shifted to wing. Second, in two recent appearances after time on both left and right wing, Hamill was slipped back to center. Third, a recent player poll that listed Chris Kelly as one of the most underrated players in the NHL. Fourth, Kelly being one of those pending UFA’s the team has to deal with. Fifth, Claude Julien putting Hamill at center between Peverley and Kelly in a recent game.

The last one may not seem like much, possibly just a nagging injury to Kelly, but Peverley has also played some center under Julien, with Hamill only having one or two games under his belt at pivot in the NHL it was shocking to many observers. Of the three Kelly could be a nice safe rental, Hamill is in the last year of his entry level contract, and Caron has another full season on his entry level deal to acclimatize to the system of anyone who picked him up.

Team management being who they are, I can’t imagine them going into the post season without finding a veteran depth defenseman somewhere as an insurance policy. Equally of note, the team does not possess a second round draft pick this year. This years draft class is replete with young men who can be expected to play a top three role in the NHL right thorough those first two rounds. Given how few players in the Bruins system project in that range, both a draft pick and some playoff insurance are likely weighing heavily on the minds of the Bruins brain trust.