Just days ago I wrote a piece on Torey Krug and how he should absolutely not be exposed at the expansion draft. Today we learn he is day to day heading into the playoffs. He is not expected to play in the season finale. Of the teams defensemen, no one does anywhere near as much to generate offense for the team. His penalty kill time this year is even contributing to better play in his own zone.

While the compact Michigan State alumni is hardly likely to turn to the dark side, his absence does indeed cast Vader’s shadow on a team where scoring among defensemen is pretty rare. At this point in the season Krug is tied for 5th in scoring among defensemen with 51 points, next is Zdeno Chara who with 29 points owns the 53rd rank. None of the other blueliners even make the top 100.

A next man up approach might slide Colin Miller into slot and bump him up a pairing. He’s a great skater, he’s a solid passer, a willing shooter, and already used to the NHL. Unfortunately those attributes haven’t combined to make him a good NHL player. He has less points than the other Miller who no one confuses with an offensive dynamo and who has played less games. For all his defensive prowess, Adam McQuaid has never gotten his point production into get close enough to his jersey number to be intimidating, so he’s probably not the answer. John Michael Liles has burned 52 games in a Bruins uniform, and racked up exactly the number of goals that the front office should spend in seconds deciding if they should offer him a net contract and giving him a line of 0-11-11 6PIM -6.

Joe Morrow has apparently been written off entirely by the organization. Which is sad, but not anything fans or writers will be able to do anything about. That brings us to guys currently in the AHL, and maybe players leaving college or aging out of juniors. Given the depth of defensemen in the system, I really can’t see an outsider being brought in. Sherman is unlikely to leave Harvard early, and isn’t an offensive guy. O’Gara did start the year with some time in the spoked B, but was eventually sent down for more minutes. Alex Grant is leading all Providence Bruins in scoring, but at 28 years old, the odds he’s even strongly considered are pretty slim.

Next up is Tommy Cross. At 27, he’s probably been consigned to the ranks of permanent AHL players. He did get a recall last year. He’s 2nd on the team in scoring for defensemen, with much of it at even strength. With 12 goals on the season and his well known mental acuity, even with less speed the Colin Miller, I can see him being at least as good offensively, and easily better defensively. Having played in the NHL already, I can see him handling playoff hockey better than most.

The player most similar to Krug in offensive abilities and projection is almost certainly Matt Grzelcyk who has 11 powerplay assists, perhals the area most likely to suffer without Krug. He’s speedy, he can handle the puck well in motion or holding a position, and can pass better than most. He’s nearing the end of this first professional season and aside from his offensive prowess can inject both speed and reasonable hockey sense into the backend.

While McAvoy is undeniably talented,  even if you’ve been there before. Making the jump when you won’t have the practice time to get comfortable with how other players communicate and play, or adjust to the pace of the game, sounds like a recipe for disaster at the toughest position to play.

This afternoon I had a discussion with a hockey fan who believes the Boston Bruins are tanking. Not just for this year, but for next year as well. I’m not saying I believe this idea, but with all the evidence it is certainly possible.

The Evidence:

  1. No one in the NHL, CHL, USHL, SPHL, AHL or anywhere else in first world hockey thinks that Bruce Cassidy is a better coach than Claude Julien.
  2. The resigning of John-Michael Liles and allowing him to play so much.
  3. The signing of David Backes who five years ago would have been the perfect pickup, but who now is only questionable without being outright wrong.
  4. Absolutely no upgrades at defense which many thought was their biggest need coming into the season.
  5. No additional scoring forwards
  6. Riley Nash was “added” to a team trying to get into the playoffs, when he couldn’t even stay in the NHL in an organization that wanted to be seen on the same page of the standings as the playoff teams.
  7. Allowing Jack Adams winning, Stanley Cup winning, World Cup winning Claude Julien, who knows any of the home grown players, and most of the rest of the roster better than anyone else in the league from having coached them for so long, go to the other half of the greatest rivalry in North American sports.
  8. Sliding a rookie defensemen onto the ice with Zdeno Chara to play against the best players on the other team.
  9. Failure to bury Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes in the minors or otherwise remove them from the roster to allow more talented forwards to fill the roster.
  10. Signing Anton Khudobin, who when healthy is a solid netminder to a two year deal, and who also hasn’t been healthy more than two months since the end of his first tenure in Boston.
  11. The entire fourth line. Seriously, Tim Schaller? Did marketing pick him because ratings were down in NH? Dominic Moore is, possibly, an accidental exception given that he’s having an above average goal scoring season. Or maybe he’s just in Boston because he’s a Harvard guy? Colton Hargrove, Noel Acciari, Austin Czarnik, and others could have done the job as well, and with more cap space left over to address very real needs in the theoretical top nine
  12. The fact that nobody is talking about this years draft, but that name for next year are coming up.

So here’s how this theoretical Rick-Rolling works: The Bruins were bafflingly in a playoff spot 50 plus games into the season, and that needs to change. Not just so the team has better draft position this year, but so there are lower expectations for next year when among other things the no movement clause on Rask’s contract becomes an NTC. Remember, this is Rask’s fourth straight year of sv% decline, and according to Hockey-Reference.com is a below average goalie already according to GSAA.

Also, for this theory to work you probably have to believe what 29 (going on 30) other NHL teams have thought of Bruce Cassidy for more than a decade; That he’s not a good NHL coach, assuming he’s one at all. He has never won at any level, when he was given the bums rush from Washington he belly flopped into the OHL. In his last 10 seasons as a head coach in the AHL, OHL, and NHL he as won just three rounds of playoff hockey. For comparison Ted Nolan who is not employed as an NHL coach right now won championships in both the OHL and QMJHL, and won a Jack Adams award for best NHL coach. That’s a stark comparison, and one would think if you’re trying to win, you take (or keep) a guy who has won, and who given the trends in the NHL, has done so with young players versus not at all.

So given that the Bruins are lacking top draft picks this season. What happens if they trade out of this years draft? What happens if they trade this years pieces for picks in the seemingly stronger 2018 draft class? They get high picks, and underdog status in the following season. Boston, all of New England loves an underdog. And in sports nothing, not even winning is sexier than hope. We know Sweeney loves draft picks. We saw him take three first round picks in a row in the low teens instead of trading even one of them to improve the team now. That’s unprecedented in the modern era. Think of trading one or more of those picks and bringing in Trouba or Dumba, but no, not the Sweeney way.

If you truly believe the Boston Bruins front office covets young men like Rasmus Dahlin or David Levin, or Joe Veleno and they might make people forget a couple bad seasons if they laced up and lit up in Black and Gold, I think it’s safe to say this idea might not be pure vapor. When you remember that there are articles and posts from people in the know pegging players at the top of the 2018 draft going back to more than 18 months before the draft, and look at other drafts where that happened like say in the 2009 draft one begins to wonder why the fan I spoke to had Rick Astley on the brain.

We are 10% into the season, and it is time to take a look at what is going on with the organization.

Heading into today’s games the Boston Bruins are:

  • 5th in the division
  • 3rd in the East’s wild card race
  • 16th in goals for
  • 15th in goals against
  • -5 in goal differential
  • 30th on the pp with 7.1% success rate
  • 10th on the PK with an 85.3% success rate
  • tied for 5th in faceoff win percentage at 51.7%st

They have used four different goalies, and 22 skaters.

By salary the top forwards without goals are:

  • David Krejci $7.25m
  • Matt Beleskey $3.8m
  • Jimmy Hayes $2.3m

The three together are a minus 18, $13.35m in salary, 56 shifts of hockey a game, and just 33 shots on goal through eight games each.

So what do we know now that we didn’t know September first? We know Brandon Carlo has shown himself to be a pretty solid NHL defenseman in this small sample. We know that Jimmy Hayes and Matt Beleskey on the same line still doesn’t work. We know that despite the extraordinary (for him) trust Julien has put in Carlo and earlier in O’Gara, he’s still not ready to shelve Liles for Morrow or one of the other youngsters in need of ice time. To date, Liles appears to have been the most culpable defenseman on the ice for a greater number of goals against than any other blueliner. Honestly, this is starting to remind me of Hnidy’s second tour through Boston. If Morrow, O’Gara, or Grzelcyk, can’t handle the time in what is clearly a bridge year, they’ll probably never handle it.

Liles plays third pairing minutes, and has averaged less time than Colin Miller this year. His powerplay time could easily be handed out among Krug, Chara, Morrow, or O’Gara who are all left handed shots as well. And as effective as the current powerplay isn’t you can make the argument putting a goalie out their in his place would be more effective. The most dispensable part of his game is his PK time, where the team is doing above average if not well, and even there in the time he was in Boston rookie Rob O’Gara averaged more shorthanded time. I don’t know how much say Julien has over who is on his roster and in the locker room, but for the long term good of the team developing a quality defenseman over allowing an aging veteran to playout their contract should win every time. That’s a call management should make, and should make firmly.

In summary:

Problems on defense that aren’t quite as bad as I feared coming into the season. Problems at forward that are worse than I feared, and a lack of health and experience in net. Not a compelling total, but this is just 10% of the season.

Today the Boston Bruins faceoff with the Avalanche, in Denver.  Not only do they face a high powered Colorado team that is currently fourth in the NHL in goals for, they have to face their traditionally sloppy afternoon play. As a team they have been poor to awful in day games for years. Even the games they do win, it’s usually much more of a contest than it should be. This is something they will need to fix, especially if they are going to have a successful cup run. Games against Vancouver, Dallas, Pheonix or Anaheim played out west will be well off their normal 7pm ET starts.

Matt Duchene, David Jones, John Michael Liles and company will try and gain separation from Chicago and Minnesotta. With a win today, and a Ducks regulation loss the Avalanche would jump from 8th to sixth in the tightly packed west.  Duchene is just one goal from his twentieth of the season, and just a couple points below a point per game season.  Former Bruin Matt Hunwick knows his old team well enough to cause problems if no one keeps an eye on him.

For the Bruins, Patrice Bergeron will look to slide back into scoring form having been kept off the score sheet two games in a row. Milan Lucic might just be able to break loose and push the Bruins goal scoring pace a little harder than he has of late. Tim Thomas can climb into second place in wins today if all goes well, if it goes really well he can once more put Henrik Lundquist behind him in shutouts.