Matt Cooke is one of those players that make me wish the NHLPA would learn to police their own in the board room as well as on the ice.  Players who continually endanger and end the careers of other union members should be removed from the players associastion and hence the league. The players need to step in and do this because the owners never will, it should be done even if it means the PA reimburses a team for the cost of players contract.

But that’s not going to happen. Matt Cooke will continue to make reckless, studpid and or vicious plays that might end another players career or life. His hit on Marc Savard wasn’t the first time he’d done something vile. It certainly wasn’t the last. Until he finally hangs his skates up, no player on an opposing team is safe. Just like Raffi Torres, Matt Cooke is a player who is bad for the business of hockey. Not just for the players currently in the leauge, but he’s the type of player who makes parens fear to let their young boys and girls play or even watch hockey.

Based on Cooke’s lengthy disciplinary history. Adam McQuaid turned 25 feet from the boards, while Cooke is facing Krug. There’s no question this was a major penalty, no question it is suspension worthy. The league really doesn’t have any choice but to hand out the same type of suspesnsion that it did to Torres for cleaning Hossa’s clock last year. Anything less than 10 games is going to be seen as the league taking a step back from suspending a player for a bigger market team. With all the theatrics Mario Lemuix has engaged in for years from the owners box, it won’t be a surprise if the suspension is less than 10 games. It wil however be a signal o the dirties players in the game, of which Cooke is near or at the head of the class, that you don’t have to worry about ending careers, or lives if you play for an owner who not only is never at fault, never has a player who is at fault either.

Lots of people have opinions on Torts, including pretty much everyone who has ever read a quote, watched him coach, or possibly stood in line behind him at the coffee spot.

Former Boston Bruin, New York Ranger, and Atalanta Thrasher Marc Savard took the opportunity to speak his mind.

 

While it is unlikely Savard will ever play hockey again, he has been a part of coaching his kids teams.

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.

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.

Before the Phil Kessel trade, there was the David Krejci contract. A furor rolled across message boards for weeks. He should get paid more than whatever Kessel got, he should get more than Bergeron or even Savard were the top ends of hubris. Krejci should get get less than any of them. He’s lazy, he’s slow. He’s the best passer, he’s a great shooter. He’s the second coming of Lafontaine, he’s the second coming of Bochenski. It was a great deal of noise was even louder than it was disjointed.

Then he got a modest contract. And earned it. At three million and change he was well worth it as a second or third type center. In that role he was solid. Then Bergeron hit his stride offensively. Then Savard went down. But, Krejci was between new comer and 30 goal scorer Nathan Horton and the resurgent Milan Lucic. At times they were the best line in hockey last season. At times they were the best paid line per point in Boston. Lucic battled through a breathing problem, and the lines play was generally solid but even in the playoffs where Krejci eeked out the most points on the team, no one called him the most impactful forward game in game out.

Way back in October when everyone got a hall pass on the opening weeks of the season as part of the Stanley Cup hangover. Then Krejci was given a day or two off for a nagging injury. He was eventually called out along with Nathan Horton for lax play by Julien. He had a solid six week run mysteriously just after he signed a contract that will pay him more than any other Bruins forward. Since then he’s reverted to the hangover form. Against the Capitals, he was shuffled to playing with Benoit Pouliot the twice discarded, and Jordan Caron  who has bounced between the Boston ice, the AHL and the pressbox.

Claude Julien says there’s no message:

“I don’t think there’s really any message other than we expect our players to come out and be the best they can every night,” Julien said. “That’s something that I think they owe it to the organization especially based on their contracts. That’s what we expect from them no matter where they are. The message should be the same whether he plays with certain players, his normal linemates or other players.”

But does anyone believe that? Claude Julien is the last coach to throw a guy to the media lions, but he will do it. As we saw with other players of variable effort level, it is a tactic he clearly dislikes and uses only as a must. We saw it with Wideman, we saw it with Ryder. We’ve certainly seen him do it with Seguin, Kessel and even Marchand, but he’s not going to do it until he feels he’s got no choice.

What do: David Krejci and Matt Bartkowski have in common? They are the only two players to lace up the skates for the Bruins this season and not manage at least an even +/-. Bartkowski was universally deemed not yet NHL ready. Which makes Krejci’s performance on the NHL’s goal differential leader more telling. A guy who led the NHL in scoring in the playoffs, but can’t manage positive contribution in the regular season isn’t lacking in skill. There is the possibility that another nagging injury like the hip he had off season surgery for exists.  If that is the case it does him a lot of credit to still be on the ice. Injury as the cause also would make the locker room, and staff pretty tight lipped as I’ve not heard a whisper of it.

In the last ten games, he’s been held to 1 or 0 shots on goal seven times. This is from a guy who’s getting as many as 18 minutes a night. By comparison, Rich Peverley has only been held to 1 or 0 three times. In that same ten games, Peverley has twenty shots on goal, Krejci just ten. The revealing thing about the shot disparity is that Peverley plays a lot more time short handed, and is pushed out to the point in their nearly identical powerplay time. A more one to one comparison to another center is that Bergeron has 18 shots on goal in the last ten games.

So the question becomes:

Message and malingering?

No message and it’s not Krejci?

Injury being disguised?

The Bruins got off to a god awful start in October, had ten wins in a row to start November and after 21 games they look a whole lot better.

Patrice Bergeron: The longest tenured skater for the team has done it all, all season. Even when the team was doing it’s zombie shuffle through October there was never a night he looked bad, disinterested or poorly conditioned. He’s done it in all areas and ways. Huge hits, five goals, a team lead in assists, second leading scorer on the team, dominant in faceoffs, and has been a key piece in reviving the powerplay even when he doesn’t figure into the powerplay goal. Leads the team in powerplay time, leads forwards in short handed time…  Grade: A

Gregory Campbell: Second among forwards in shorthanded time, has like the rest of the team had a better November than October. Unfortunately the Merlot Line’s October was a key reason for the teams failure to thrive. Grade C-

Jordan Caron: While he’s been in and out of the line up, and had numerous linemates, it’s tough to get a grip on where he fit into the equation. He’s getting an incomplete, but if I had to grade his total effort I’d give him a C weighted on his rookie status and the chaos that was the first month. Grade: Incomplete

Zach Hamill: Looked ok in Camp, was the pace setter in Providence before being called up, contributed while he was here showing more speed, toughness, and ability than his detractors would ever of credited him with. got an assist and was plus 3 in just two games. Not enough time to fairly grade him. Grade: Incomplete

Nathan Horton: Has had the most uneven of seasons. A month of being wretched, a couple weeks of being about what we expect of him. In just his second season here has gotten Julien to coach via the media which is highly unusual for him. Frustrating to watch. Grade: D+

Chris Kelly: Has been one of the guys shuffled around a great deal this year skating with: Horton, Lucic, Hamill, Caron, Peverley, Marchand and Pouliot among others. Has performed above what anyone most expected of him. Tied for third in goals on the team, tied for second in plus minus huge penalty kill minutes, a shorthanded goal, a game winning goal, a good fight… Grade: A

David Krejci: Last years leading scorer in the playoffs has been a no show this season. He did enter the season with a nagging “core” injury that eventually caused him to miss a game. Has looked very slow, disinterested and is currently tenth on the team in scoring. Has points in just five of his games this season, and has only had one streak of consecutive games scoring (3). Grade: F

Milan Lucic: Like Horton has had an up and down season, but has kept the up higher and done what he needs for himself and the team to succeed of late. Has played with passion and interest for most of the last three or four weeks and despite his linemates he’s second on the team in goals, and tied for third in points overall. May want to threaten to beat his linemates in practice if they don’t play better. Grade: C+

Brad Marchand: One of the four forwards who hasn’t taken nights off this season. Even when he doesn’t score you hear his name, you notice him play no matter who else is on the ice. Successfully plays the body, the puck and his opponents minds took on and beat the larger PK Subban in a good fight. Tied for third on the team in scoring, has the most underrated passing skills on the team, second among forwards for time on ice, second on the team in takeaways. Grade: A

Daniel Paille: As part of the Merlot Line he and was less dependable than needed in October, but certainly not the whole of a problem that stretched up and down the lineup. Got a nasty facial injury a few weeks back missed a couple games and jumped back in the lineup without a hint of rust. On pace for his best goals performance as a Bruin in this his third season here. Grade C-

Rich Peverley: The Swiss army knife of the Bruins lineup has played up and down the lineup, on both wings and three lines. Is scoring at a pace that will bring him near his career highs. November has been much better than October for him. This month he’s been a minus player just once, in October he was four times including three straight.  Should probably ask guys what athletic supporter they use instead of attempting to guess with the blade of his stick. Grade: B

Benoit Pouliot: I don’t honestly understand how or why he’s beaten out Hamill and Caron for the 12th forward position, but his effort is commendable. Uses his speed and willingness to drive the net to open up chances. Has taken a lot of just plain stupid penalties. Grade: D

Marc Savard: Teams most engaging Twitter use. Has a good handle on the teams mood and his ability to predict the performance of the team is uncanny. Grade A

Tyler Seguin: Leads the team in scoring and plus/minus. Has made enormous strides year over year in his defensive play as well. Needs to focus on better passing and not be so impatient. The itchiness to get rid of the puck tends to lead to sometimes costly turnovers. Could stand to throw the body or rub guys out along the boards more often.  I end up saying it twice a game but if he could pass as well as he can shoot and skate the Bruins could win games by double digits.  Grade A-

Shawn Thornton: The third member of the Merlot Line has done his best to stem the tide in games, and has been the leader we saw last season this month, but was one of the more notable flops in October. Grade C

With six minutes and fifty seconds left in the first period there was body contact resulting in a two minute minor penalty between left winger Milan Lucic of the Boston Bruins and Vezina winning All Star goalie Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres. It was well outside the crease, and clearly none of the player on the ice from the Sabres thought it was anything exceptional as they had 47 minutes to respond, and did not do so. Ryan Miller would stay in net after the contact. In the second period he would play all twenty minutes, and surrender two more even strength goals. At the start of the third period Jhonas Enroth would take over crease duties. This is not the first time Enroth has replaced Miller in net this season.

Initially when Miller was pulled it was reported as a possible neck injury. After the game, a focused and angry looking Miller stated he had only stuck around to call Milan Lucic a particular four letter word. The next morning, it was reported that Miller had a concussion and was out, but not put on the injured reserve. This is a bit curious for a number of reasons. First and foremost is that Miller has a concussion history. We’ve all seen players who have had concussions in the past suffer a new one. The reaction from the player is immediate. It’s obvious to everyone what their chief worry is. Miller on the other hand played twenty-seven more minutes, or about an hour and fifteen minutes real time.

This alone isn’t enough to proclaim something is rotten in the state of Denmark, but let’s take a look at these other oddments, including the goalie rotation that has taken place in the Buffalo crease this season:

  • The Buffalo Sabres are one of the highest spending teams in the NHL. Miller’s contract is for over six million dollars.
  • The Sabres had less than $52,000 in cap space available for the year, not counting LTIR money.
  • With Miller not on the LTIR, the team is seriously inhibiting their flexibility later in the year, when you note the injury riddled history of several skaters this becomes increasingly curious.
  • Both Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff have made bellicose statements that bring up the question of similar behavior by their team with very little if any concern expressed for their own player.
  • Terry Pegula who never seems to be at a loss for words has made no public statements.
  • One major difference between placing someone on the LTIR and shorter term designations is the ability to activate them in short period of time.
  • While Enroth has been announced as the goaltender for Tuesday’s game, it’s likely given the rotation, that even had their been no contact between Miller and Lucic that would have been his start anyway.

Obviously we don’t know what the inner workings of the Buffalo Brain Trust are, but one huge risk factor for leaving Miller day to day is the chances he will push himself too hard to come back. Marc Savard is like Ryan Miller prone to popping off and the mouth, and of similar age. No one can say definitively that Miller will push himself back to soon from the injury the team claims, but without setting up a firm timeline where game play is out of the question it’s impossible not to speculate on the seriousness of the issue, how seriously the medical and managerial staff take the injury that is claimed, and how much value any or all of them put on the long-term health and safety of Ryan Miller.

 

The fact that the Boston Bruins powerplay is mostly useless has been as well kept a secret as Pittsburgh hosting the 2012 NHL All-Star game. The Bruins powerplay has been dissected here, and elsewhere ad nauseum. Something I haven’t seen, and wonder why not is what a former keystone of the Bruins powerplay brought that the current centers and top forwards don’t.

While Tyler Seguin is undoubtedly a faster skater, and more willing shooter than Marc Savard there is one important things he’s not. Patrice Bergeron is getting the lions share of powerplay time for the Bruins this year which has brought it well above the level it performed at over the playoffs, but neither he nor Sequin possess the trait that might just help get the Bruins into the top ten (or higher) powerplays in the leauge. Guess what, even though he’s capable of some nifty passes David Krejci, like Bergeron and Seguin is a right handed center.

Marc Savard is a lefty. While it’d be nice to get him back in the mix on a lot of counts, it’s unlikely it will happen soon. Than means the Bruins need to look at options other than Bergeron, Krejci and Seguin to be able to get shots and passes from the same angles as Savard provided. Rich Peverley who is irregularly slotted into the center position is a right handed shot as well. Chris Kelly and Brad Marchand are both lefties. Marchand while frequently listed as a center hasn’t taken regular shifts in that position while in a Boston uniform Kelly is a lot of things, most of them of high value to his club, but offensively explosive is not on the list. Zach Hamill while a solid passer is again a right handed shot, everyone else in the system is either two or more years from the NHL or injured.

Elsewhere in the NHL, there are a couple possibilities. Dale Tallon has shown a great deal of shyness in turning over the roster of the Florida Panthers. Stephen Weiss is a left handed center about the same size as David Krejci, is one of the last Panthers who is a legacy of the previous management, and has put up pretty solid numbers despite lacking talent around him.  His cap hit is more than manageable, but with his and the teams good start he might be reluctant to waive his no movement clause even to be reunited with Campbell and Horton even if it means moving to a slightly more hockey focused market.

The Colorado Avalanche have a great powerplay,  have some difficulty five on five, and possess two remarkably similar left handed centers. Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny are within about an inch of each other in height a couple pounds in weight, and produce similar results all across the stat sheet. The two biggest differences are in salary and age. Despite better goaltending this year, they are again in the bottom third of the league for goals against and penalty killing. A deal between Boston and Colorado that brought back one of these centers, and sent over a penalty killer should benefit both teams.

A possibility that has a few more faults built into it is a trade with the Capitals.  Washington is already a power house regular season team that has put a lot of work into adding players who get it in the playoffs as well. It is highly likely that head coach Bruce Boudreau and General Manager George McPhee could have the opportunity to explore new positions if the team can’t make it at least to the Stanley Cup finals, something the franchise has never done. For them, adding a player who has succeed not just against them, and won the Stanley Cup but led the NHL in post season points in David Krejci if he were exchanged for Brooks Laich. If that’s what McFee and Chiarelli decided on, the Bruins gain their left handed center, finally gain a top three center over 200 pounds, get a left handed player who plays in all situations (as Krejci has), and the Capitals gain a playoff performer, cap space and possibly gain the missing element needed to go deep in the playoffs.

The Lines Are Dead! Long Live the Lines!

The Lines Are Dead! Long Live the Lines!

A mainstay of last season was the Krejci, Horton, Lucic triad. At times they were world beating. At times they were. Now they are no more. This should be no great shock, as has been pointed out across the blogosphere, the line was often stagnant. There are some great things about the once (and future?)  great line started sputtering during the playoffs. The Montreal series saw little production, and they were not often effective from their until the infamous Rome hit.

Who’s to blame? A systemic failure of all three players can’t be pinned on just one guy. None of the three has ever had poor Octobers. But if you look at the three there’s certain things that trail all three across their career. For Milan Lucic it’s pretty obvious he’s stopped being the guy who delivered a couple hits that turned guys inside out per game. He’s also not done the same level of work along the boards either retrieving or protecting the puck.

Nathan Horton’s play is a little harder to gauge. He’s only been here one season. That said, 100% of shots not taken don’t go in. In six games this season he’s had just six shots. Against the Flyers and the Avalanche he had zero shots. Through the first six games Horton has averaged 16:16 per night. Shawn Thornton who plays less six and a half minutes less per night has 8 shots on goal. Brad Marchand who plays a little over a minute more per game, and spends most of the difference killing penalties has 16 shots, and five hits to Horton’s two.

David Krejci is a high end passer. Unfortunately, he’s showing a pronounced tendency towards complacency. When he played that magical season between Wheeler and Ryder the three spent more than a month as the best line in the NHL. Injuries cropped up, off ice life effected people and bodies were shuffled leading to the lines breakup. The next year when reunited the spark only lasted a couple games. Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler are not perfect any more than Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton are, but the only common factor in all four breaking down after extended time on a line with Krejci is Krejci.  By comparison Savard and Bergeron’s linemates (as they’ve stayed with the team) have more often become more productive the second year together than less.