On the surface splitting up Bruins alternate captain Patrice Bergeron and his longtime co-star on the Boston Bruins top line Brad Marchand is a little crazy. But it might just be time.

With the team going fully into rebuild mode right now, and the likely departure of Zdeno Chara before we see another Cup hoisted, the team needs to do a couple of really important things, really fast. First and foremost is they need to sheppard the careers of players who have already shown NHL level talent. Second they need to mentor and help ripen the players who have yet so shine at the NHL level. Third they have to keep the team reasonably balanced so that players always have a core member of the team on the ice and on the bench. That’s no easy task.

Another factor that might lead to 37 & 63 shifting lines is simply the need to ignite some of the players who may need to be traded. The front office completed the destruction of the Seguin and Hamilton trades, and should look to rebuild their treasure trove of future draft picks. David Backes still has something left to give, and is a good soldier, but I don’t know if this should be where he finishes out his career. Matt Beleskey is another player who might end up elsewhere before his contract expires. Ryan Spooner is the third of the forwards likely to see at least one more home locker room before his career is over. I don’t see the three igniting each other.

One possible combination of the top three lines is:

Vatrano – Bergeron – Bjork

Beleskey – Krejci – Pastrnak

Marchand – Spooner – Backes

I know, the first thing that comes to mind is why isn’t a line with Pastrnak or Marchand listed first? Simple: I order them by centers.

Some would argue that Marchand is being punished by playing with Spooner and Backes. I think in someways this is an opportunity for Marchand to unleash his full offensive potential. Backes is a guy who not very long ago was worthy of being a Selkie nominee at least, and he still retains his defensive prowess, if at a slightly lower pace. While Bergeron is hardly slow, Spooner is fast. And playing full time with a guy who should cross the 40 goal mark this season, he’ll have the perfect opportunity to show exactly what he’s worth for his next contract when he’s playing with not one but two All Star veterans.

The physicality of Belesekey and the pure speed and goal scoring ability of Pastrnak make this a slightly more fleet footed version of lines that featured Lucic with Seguin and Kessel in the past. Krejci hasn’t lost any of his passing ability, and he and Pastrnak have great chemistry.

Bergeron has proven he can help develop any player who actually is NHL  level talent. Vatrano didn’t have a great year last year, but at almost 3 shots per game in his young career, with an unusually low 8.6% shooting last year, it’s almost certain he gets back to the 11-12% range this year, particularly with a top center, and a gifted wing on the other side. Bjork showed all season long at Notre Dame, and for years in international play he’s capable of playing at a high, high level. This would be the opportunity to prove it.

Another possible combination, this assuming Spooner is moved before the season begins:

Pastrnak – Bergeron – Senyshyn

Marchand – Krejci – Bjork

Beleskey – Kurlay – Backes

This would give the team a certified checking line for the first time in a few years, but also a third line that should still pot close to sixty goals, and a checking line with Beleskey and Backes is going to leave other teams battered and bruised. Over the last two seasons the two have averaged about 3 (counted) his per game despite limited ice time, and availability. Backes is tied for 8th among NHL forwards in hits per game in that period, Beleskey is a few slots down tied for 12th.

These are just two permutations of the numerous viable, if not high likelihood possibilities for allowing two veterans to bolster two lines with their two hundred foot game, every shift work ethic, and pure craftiness on the ice. When you work in other players who might well make the team out of camp or get early call ups due to injury. Jacob Forsbacka Karlsson, is a player likely to make the team, Riley Nash was played up and down the roster last year, Noel Acciari is quite the useful young player who has been pushed into the lineup whenever there’s a need.

Danton Heinen and Peter Cehlarik who saw action last year, certainly know what it takes to make it to the big show.  Ryan Fitzgerald has to have a better idea how to be an NHL player than many young men. Jesse Gabriel has all the tools to be an impact player, last year in the WHL he was over a point per game player with 35 goals. And it can’t be overlooked that David Pastrnak is still unsigned, and that the contract dispute could drag into the season, allowing one or more youngsters a shot at ice time that might not ordinarily be available.

Checkout this weeks Two Man ForeCheck and give it a listen while writing your hate mail.

With the NHL Expansion draft looming, it’s time to take a look at who the Boston Bruins must and should protect. Anyone with an active no movement clause, must be protected. Anyone who has played under a certain number of games or is on exempt, so McAvoy, Kuraly, JFK are all safe from being dragged off to the city of sin.

For the Boston Bruins the must protect list includes David Krejci, David Backes, Zdeno Chara, and Patrice Bergeron. That’s a lot of salary, but it also includes a ton of minutes eaten every night. At least one goalie must be exposed, and three that count right now are Malcolm Subban, Anton Khudobin, and Tukka Rask. Of them Subban is due a contract sometime before games start to count, Rask has four more years with a cap hit of seven million, and Khudobin is entering the final year of his contract with $1,200,000.

I can’t see Rask not being protected, which means either Subban or Khudobin being taken is a real possibility. For youth, Subban might be the better pick for Vegas, but Khudobin has more experience and has played behind bad NHL defenses and still turned up solid numbers when healthy and focused.

At forward I can’t imagine anyone feeling the need to argue against protecting Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. Further, any argument to the effect either is worth giving up for nothing is nonsensical. After that you need to weigh the risk and reward of protecting Beleskey, Spooner, Hayes, Nash, Schaller, Moore, and Stafford. It is hard to find a reward to protecting Hayes. Schaller and Nash are decent bottom six players, but either can be replaced by half a dozen guys in Providence or UFA’s. Moore will be 37 when camp opens this fall, and while he had a career year last year, that just means he’s even more likely to slump. Nice player, probably the best of the bottom six, but still I’m not sure I protect him.

This brings us to three players. Ryan Spooner a Bruins draft pick with extraordinary hands and feet but who has failed to thrive. Matt Beleskey who was hindered by injury and saddled with Hayes as a linemate much of last season, and career Bruins killer Drew Stafford who has had just one twenty goal year in his last five and is now 31. Of them I think I have to protect Beleskey. In limited action he still provided a great deal of physicality the team needed. Spooner is younger with a theoretically higher ceiling, but he has shown zero consistency year to year.

On defense Torey Krug is a must protect. You simply don’t give away a guy who finishes sixth in scoring among defensemen, ever. McPhee would snatch him in a heartbeat and the Bruins would be set back years. The blueliners to keep track of left after Krug and Chara are John Michael-Liles, Kevan Miller, Colin Miller, and Adam McQuaid. Liles is aging and couldn’t crack the top six last year against very, very inexperienced competition, there’s no reason to protect him. Colin Miller has shown even less of the reasons he was acquired than Ryan Spooner.

In many ways Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid are similar players. It isn’t until you look at the various stats you see the differences. McQuaid is simply better in his own zone, his on ice save percentage is better, his difference from team save percentage is better, and he plays more short handed time, and his even strength time is played against better opponents. Kevan Miller is noticeably better offensively (.20ppg vs .14ppg) but neither is anything to make note of, nor does it outweigh the other factors. Age, McQuaid is slightly more than a year older, and while both have health issues again it’s about even.

Unless Neely and Sweeney commit resume generating events in their protection list, I don’t expect the team will suffer anything from the expansion.

There are more than a couple players being speculated about right, left and center in video, radio, Twitter and by writers all over the globe. Here’s my list of the guys someone really should be smart enough to grab at a respectable price.

Matt Duchene is a gimmie. He’s proven he can play at the highest levels as both a center and winger. If I were a team like the Ducks or the Islanders and wanted a forward who can move, pass, and score, I don’t think I’d let Sakic off the phone.

Evander Kane is among the most underrated players in the NHL this year. If the Sabres had managed to stampede into a playoff slot, that might not be the case. More even strength goals than anyone since December 3. Not powerplay goals, but five on five. That’s playing 90% or more against better teams and the top defense because he is playing with Eichel.

Jaroslav Halak is frankly abusing the AHL, a league he doesn’t belong in, and has a very strong NHL playoff record. Maybe the Saint Louis Blues should consider a second visit for him? Or perhaps the Dallas Stars or Winnipeg Jets jump on the opportunity to get him now, both need goaltending badly. Both should be free of worries about disrupting team chemistry.

Michael Del Zotto, in Episode 0005 we talk a little bit about him. I think on a team that needs a guy and can give him clear, firm, direction without screaming it, and pairing him with a consistent partner, he might just be a player who pushes a team one more round, two more wins. Maybe Edmonton is a solid destination, he can play on a team with little pressure and bring his playoff experience as an asset.

Matt Beleskey isn’t getting a lot of attention, and that’s partly due to a run of horrendous luck and iffy chemistry on ice with the Bruins this year. Realistically, he’s done everything that is asked of him. And when he hasn’t been shackled to Jimmy Hayes, or the inconsistent Ryan Spooner, he’s contributed offensively. If the Nashville Predators or Calgary Flames want a little more belligerence and physicality, they could do much worse.

Anthony Duclair had 20 goals last season on very, very few shots, only 105 in fact in the 81 games he played last year. This year he’s been banished back to the AHL. If he can be induced to shoot more, he’s got 30 goal man written all over him. Forty isn’t out of reach either. I’m not confident the Coyotes believe they can get that from him. The former New York Ranger might just find himself somewhere out east again. Maybe as an Islander playing with Tavares, or in Ottawa on a team that could use a tiny bit more scoring.

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.