The Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers square off for a battle of their divisions apex predators tonight at the Garden. It is the last game before the break so expect an all out effort from both teams. In the last game Bruins-Killer Jose Theodore pulled his Vezina act out of storage and stonewalled the black and gold, again. Jason Garrison who leads all defensemen in goals punched his ticket to the hardest shot competition:

Crazy ending tonight. I owe @ for that save in the 2nd! @ cracked my mask, gotta get a new one. #backtothedrawingboard
@CraigAnderson41
Craig Anderson

which puts him up there with guys like Zdeno Chara and Brian Rolston in the mask cracking fraternity. The Bruins can reclaim first in the conference with a win and and Flyers loss. The Panthers look to rebound from a late loss to Craig Anderson and the Senators before the break.

Bruins:

  • In net Tim Thomas will look to improve upon his 1.84 GAA and .943 Sv%
  • Rich Peverley will be out
  • have scored zero and allowed one 4 on 4 goal.
  • have the 2nd best PK rolling along at 86.7% overall and 90.1% at home
  • Milan Lucic returns from a 1 game suspension for a play the ‘wronged’ player didn’t feel was bad.

Panthers:

  • have a list of injuries that includes top center Weiss, Sturm, Upshall, Samuelsson and more
  • Jose Theodore will be in net
  • take the third least minor penalties in the NHL but lead the NHL in game misconducts
  • have won 2 out of 6 shootouts this season
  • are 49.9% in faceoffs as a team, good for 14th in the league
  • have a better goals for average on the road than at home (2.79 vs 2.44)

 

While I don’t see the Bruins trading Rask any time in the near future, the possibility does exist that with all the key contracts up this off season the Bruins will need to move someone to make it work. He’s an RFA to be with arbitration rights, and he’s put in some impressive numbers in limited play. There are several teams who need a goalie either right now or soon. The Bruins could go for either a short term deal that let them fill in for a long term injury or was a move designed to put the team over the top. A long term deal would almost have to include tow or three pieces coming to Boston that fit into the three year plus plans, it could be draft picks, highly regarded prospects, roster players or some mix.

One of the more interesting bits of speculation going around is a Tuukka Rask for Zach Parise deal. This one has floated around for a good two years, maybe longer. The fact that the Broduer Era is essentially over, and their current backup is even older than he is just provides more fuel for it. Take the Devils inability to sign Parise to a long term deal, and you’ve got all that is needed for an unkillable discussion. Parise is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and arguably the biggest fish in the sea. For the Bruins pulling the trade off in season not only gives them the best left wing depth in the NHL, if he fits in, the team is just short of a lock to become the first back to back cup winner in the salary cap era. Getting an inside track on negotiations before he hits the open market July 1st is just icing on the cake.  For New Jersey they get arguably the best backup in hockey, who is also young enough to still be in his prime as Larsson, Henrique and other youngsters peak.

The Florida Panthers may not need goaltending now, but Jose Theodore has highly variable seasons, Scott Clemmensen has never started even half the games in a season, despite playing his first NHL game in the 01-02 season. Worse from their prospective is that Clemmensen is signed only through the end of this year, and Theodore through the end of next year.  Both have played well so far, but neither is exactly young. They do have Markstrom who his young, and played his first NHL games this season, but clearly they don’t think he’s ready. The team has surprised a lot of people, and maybe in win real soon mode, but you can’t help but wonder what Dale Tallon’s long term plan is. Swapping Rask for Markstrom and Garrison. or Markstrom and draft picks is something that works both ways.  Markstrom would get to develop behind a completely different style goaltender and wouldn’t face the same pressure as Rask will in stepping into Thomas’s shoes, Rask get’s to take over the reigns on a team that is clearly on the way up now.

The Minnesota Wild have to be considered the biggest positive surprise in the whole western conference this year. Everyone knew the Oilers had the offensive goods to beat up teams who weren’t wary, but I’d be willing to bet not many people had the Wild in the Northwest division drivers seat, nor leading the NHL a day before Thanksgiving. They are a team more in need of goalscoring today than they are goaltending, but they have two UFA to be goaltenders. One is the 33 year old Backstrom, the other the 27 year old Harding. It’s likely that Backstrom is retained, but he’s played a shrinking number of games over the last three years from a high of 71 to just 51 last year due to injuries. Harding has grown into his responsibilities, and has pretty solid regular season numbers with just one playoff game to his credit. Assuming the Wild are giving up Harding, for Rask, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Bruins wanted a long term project like Charlie Coyle and a 2nd round pick in the deal.

The Tampa Bay Lightning thought they had a solution in Dwayne Roloson. Not so. The offensively gifted team has been let down by a goalie who time has caught up to.  Their backup is career journeyman. They could stand to beef up their defensive depth, but priority one is finding an answer in the crease.  Enter Tuukka Rask. With him they’d arguably have the best goaltender in the division, certainly the best young goaltender in the Southeast Division. While reuniting Tim Thomas with St Louis as the return for Rask is certainly fit to make Bruins and University of Vermont followers have a fangasm, he is 38 years old with a largeish contract for three more years. Ryan Malone is another intriguing forward the Bolts might move, he does currently have an NMC, but climate aside, I can’t see him complaining about the chance to play in Boston. They don’t have a great deal of prospect depth,  but shoring up one position has to make it easier to focus on the rest.

I can’t see the Bruins trading Rask within the division, but the crease in Toronto eclipses even the Islanders for chaos, and is significantly lower in talent. Not even the Columbus Blue Jackets have given up more goals than the Leafs. What would the Bruins get in return? Good question. The defense is as faulty as the goaltending, and the forward crew seems to only work there. The number of guys who have been discarded by other teams with cause is amazing. I don’t think a straight Rask for draft picks is a good investment, but Burke has been a willing trade partner.

The other divisional team that might be clamoring for a goalie is the Senators. I don’t think they’ve had an elite goaltender in their history. They have a surprising amount of depth in skaters, but an NHL ready goaltender is one thing they don’t have. The potential returns range from prospects like Rundblad and Cowen or Zibenajad to an NHL veteran like Alfredsson. If the return is picks, and not yet NHL ready prospects, maybe the talented but oft injured Milan Michalek is worth taking a gamble on.

The story of the off season thus far is the moves Florida General Manager Dale Tallon bringing his former players to him. The big splash was the once unmovable, inexcusable big deal given to Brian Campbell. Tallon brought in one of the NHL’s prototypical puck-moving defensemen, a small smooth skater with a great pass. Next up is the nearly incomprehensible $3,000,000.00 per year to depth forward Tomas Kopecky. Kopecky has never topped 15 goals per year. By comparison, Michael Ryder the two time thirty goal scoring, Stanley Cup Champion is going to make only half a million more.

Today the never fully unpacked Kris Versteeg joined the Florida Panthers.  Versteeg, who was once traded for the electric Brandon Bochenski, was today acquired for a second and a third round pick. This is actually a jump in value. Versteeg since leaving the Bruins organization has had several cities to call home. From Boston he went to Chicago just long enough to win the Stanley Cup. From there he was part of the enormous firesale that saw him go to Toronto for just long enough for his passport to come in. Next stop was the Flyers where he was on hand to experience the second round sweep by the Boston Bruins. Now the NHL’s most famous rapper has disappeared from the city of brotherly love faster free cheesestakes.

Added to the mix are several newcomers to the Tallon constellation. The eldest is Ed Jovanovski who once upon a time was drafted by the Florida Panthers. Scottie Upshall is another of the players who can be a native tour guide in almost half the cities in the NHL. The crease was the next position to be scratched off was goaltending. Marcel Goc and Jose Theodore (hopefully) will be filling the void in net while prospects develop. All in all an odd week, with some very interesting guys in the fold, but no real high end talent. They can be an interesting team to watch this season, and will probably rack up more points than last season, but a playoff berth is not in the cards without direct demonic intervention.