The Boston Bruins have the very unique opportunity to stay largely intact after a Stanley Cup Win, and potentially repeat. This hasn’t been done in years. Given that they finished their historic run just days before the NHL Entry Draft no one should be shocked they made no moves during the pause for breath between the two. Since then they have made two moves. They signed a forward who is twice discarded. They traded a fourth round pick (the round both Marc Savard and Mark Recchi were drafted in) for a defenseman with a spotty off ice past who has been a minus player two of the last three seasons.
While I don’t think anyone could rightly complain about their two first round picks, neither will impact the line up this year or next. At six five and well under 200lbs Hamilton will need at least a year to bulk up enough to play at the NHL level, and likely a year in the AHL first as well. Khokhlachev is a late 93 birthday with just one year of playing in North America under his belt. He’s likely as much as three years away unless he blows everyone’s doors off between now and the opening of the regular season. Neither of these guys, nor Corvo are likely to improve the powerplay this season.
Verdict: Loser short term.
The New York Rangers went big game hunting and pulled in the biggest name on the market in free agency. Brad Richards signed a long term deal for what is at least currently a pretty good cap hit for his talent level. The theory is clearly that he can make Gaborik and whoever ends up on his other wing more effective. The only other free agent signing was the aging Mike Rupp who will provide some physicality. As for the draft, not much was done to correct their scoring woes. They left quite a few big names on the board in the first round, and their later picks are all likely long term prospects.
The Rangers off season is heavily marred by their having more players file for arbitration than any other team. Four players filing by itself would be bad enough. That last years two most effective forwards head the list, and that the defenseman number three in ice time joins them is potentially disastrous. With sixteen player signed and less than sixteen million to fill the roster you have to wonder how they intend to do so. Montreal’s Plekanek, Boston’s Bergeron, and Minnesota’s Koivu are all reasonable comparisons for Dubinsky and each has a cap hit around five million. When you add Brian Boyle who had more than twenty goals last season to the list of those filing arbitration, you have to wonder if they players themselves will need name tags when camp opens.
The Maple Leafs General Manager was roundly criticized for being Afghanistan rather than at the Brad Richards soiree or otherwise preparing to throw gobs of cash at one of the worst free agent markets in recent memory. Still once you roll in the premium bad team have to pay for free agent talent, and the markets paucity of it signing Tim Connolly away from a division rival works on a couple levels. First, it gets him a center with talent they should allow him to leave Kadri and Colborne in the AHL to develop another year. It adds recent playoff experience and someone who is familiar with the system at least from the outside, while making your division rival replace someone.
At the draft, they picked up some solid prospects who mostly appear to be works in progress and don’t project towards hitting the NHL in the next year or two. In trades they jettisoned Brett Lebda while picking up another NHL experienced center, and defenseman in exchange. Given the injury history of Connolly and Lombardi it is something of a risk, but when you come right down to it all players are. Cody Franson is probably the best of the additions so far this off season.
Verdict: Winners. It’s clear that Burke is retooling slowly and he’s been pretty consistent in that, but in picking up some Franson, Connolly, and Lombardi all of whom have that recent playoff experience he doesn’t want his dressing room going into the playoffs blind if they should sneak in this year or next.
It would appear that Peter Chiarelli seems to enjoy yanking the rug out from the feet of his Northeast Division rivals. Over the past few years the Boston Bruins have signed from or traded from a lot of so players. Michael Ryder just departed for the Dallas Stars, he was a Canadien. Marc Savard I’m sure has a deep, sharp memory of another former Habs and Bruins forward Steve Begin, who not long before becoming a Bruins fourth liner broke the star centers back.
Daniel Paille was the first trade between the Bruins and Sabres not very long ago and that has worked out well. One shouldn’t forget how well the Tomas Kaberle trade worked out. For a mere first round pick, second round pick and former first round pick the Bruins got worst powerplay in NHL playoff history, a four and a half million dollar contract, and a fifth defenseman. The Senators discard Chris Kelly has been a very solid contributor.
But today, Benoit Pouliot was added to the Bruins roster. For those who don’t recall exactly who he is Jack Edwards provides a great refresher.
While I’m willing to give nearly anyone the benefit of the doubt, it should be noted that of all the players I mentioned as potential good matches that no where on the list was a guy who has a career goals high of 17, seems not to be able to stick with a club, and isn’t especially gifted in any aspect of the game. Working the powerplay isn’t his specialty, penalty kill is not his specialty. Hitting and physical play, also not very notable. Shot blocking and penalty killing can also be crossed off the list. As can goal scoring, play making and any other statistically valid piece.
Earlier today Aaron Rome of the Vancouver Canucks was suspended for four games. I’ll save the behavior of Henrik Sedin and Alain Vigneault for another post since that could easily spiral into pages. As a fan who’s team has been on both sides of suspension rulings I’m heartily ambiguous about this suspension. When Marc Savard was hit by Matt Cooke I felt that was clearly an intent to injure and should have been a very long suspension. When Marc Savard was again laid out by former Bruins defenseman and current member of the Colorado Avalance Matt Hunwick I watched the replay three times and said “clean play”. When Marchand was suspended earlier this year I looked at the play, said “Ok, I get why and how this happened late hit, boneheaded, but not intent to injure.”
Comparing this to some of the other suspensions from the season we see repeat offender Matt Cooke with four games for charging and boarding, Daniel Paille two games for a hit to the head, James Wisniewski for two games for an obscene gesture to another player. So we’re lead to be the confusing conclusion that actually knocking someone out of the game for who knows how long in the Stanley Cup Finals is equally as bad as boarding and charging, twice as bad as a penalty that at worst left a player offended and likely amused, but also only twice as bad as another hit to the head by a first time offender. Diving a little further into the suspensions list, apparently smashing your stick into someones head is one fourth less bad than hitting someone with your body, as Olli Jokinen’s suspension clearly illustrates.
With that pure and unambiguous set of guidelines let’s dive into the case. Some of these are reasons I believe, others are what different people ahve put forward, and some are merely probable conjecture.
It’s the longest suspension in Stanley Cup Finals History, and is in fact longer than all three other suspensions put together.
Rome is a first time offender.
The rule is ambiguous and based on the precedent of intent on the Burrows bite, intent is important.
It was a clean hit.
The rule has been in place for a year, and players have had time to adjust
The other events of the series mean there was “a history” between the players.
Its the Stanley Cup Finals, the games are very important and a player who is knocked out through no fault of their own is lost to their team for far longer than any suspension.
While, for the sake of the game I could wish the suspension was longer, I actually think there NHL got this one as close to that near-mythical-beast “right” as is possible. By setting a bar this much higher than previous situational suspensions (preseason vs regular season vs playoffs vs Stanley Cup Finals) they have a clearly stated precedence they can apply to future escalations.
Having watched the hit about twenty five times now for the sake of uniformity I have to give my opinion. So:
Yes it was late.
Rome did leave his lane, step into the path of Horton and turning his body to apply his shoulder.
There was head contact.
Rome’s hands, stick and elbows were down.
Those are the salient points. While the hit was clearly late, I can’t honestly call it malicious. If Rome hadn’t left his own lane and realigned his body it would be incidental contact.
This was sent to me very shortly before game 1, due to the internet being fun, it didn’t make it up before then.
Welcome to my little corner of the world. I’ve finally been given an opportunity to get my viewpoint out about the status and activities of our favorite team. So on to the obligatory…
Thanks to my great friend “The ‘Sage” for giving me the opportunity to write about a team I am passionate about. The Sage is already well established and I only hope that I can add to that reputation.
So let’s start at the beginning…
Before the beginning of the season we were left with a sour taste in our collective mouths over an unexpected exit from the playoffs. Following cries of “Hell one, snowball zero” thanks to New Jack, we were expecting more. Then came talks of trading Thomas as we discovered what we thought was the second coming in Tuukka. But the Bruins did the right thing in hanging onto the Vezina winner as he would go on to demonstrate this season. There were other things such as Savvy’s concussion and Seidenberg’s wrist. Then there was the rookie…We marveled at his first goal and everyone had hopes of a high goal scorer.
Thomas showed us what he could do with two healthy hips and freedom of movement. Another Vezina could be on the horizon. My man Luc started showing us that he wants to be the next…I’m not gonna say it, but I still hold out hope.
We came to the trade deadline and Chia pet wanted something that, The Sage told me, all the cool kids have and he got his PMD. Some guy named Kaberle. We overpaid, no doubt, but fans rallied behind this move, even though Kaberle has spent the second half of the season trying to prove us wrong. Two other players were brought in, and at least one is paying off as Peverley has been playing his heart out. Kelly has been pretty good on the PK, and I probably wouldn’t send him back.
So here we are in the Finals. Beating our hated rivals, the Divers, in seven games, and exorcising the demon from last season by sweeping the Flyers. What a great feeling that was! The Lightning showed us that they are for real with their talent and gave the Bruins all they could handle. Thomas stood on his head, and leaned on Reebok for a little assistance to get us here.
This series will be tough, 6 games minimum is my take. Our top defensive pair is better than what Vancouver can offer but their defense has the ability to score. The Boys in Black have something more important though, scoring depth. The third and fourth lines for the B’s have 5 more goals and 12 more points than their counterparts for the guys in green. Thomas will have to be the Vezina winner again, but the men in front of him will have to play their best and STAY OUT OF THE PENALTY BOX!
One last thought as they literally get ready to sing the national anthems on my television…at the end of the season, one way or the other…do the B’s do the unthinkable and trade a Vezina winner? No joke, I have heard it mentioned that his trade stock will never be higher and we have the future sitting on the bench. I say that with all the money coming off the books at the end of the season, and a cap increase, we need to keep this stellar goaltender for another shot next season. Tuukka will still be there, and we never even talked about the two rookies except for the quick mention at the top!
So lets drop the puck and get this thing started already…
I’m hardly discounting the rest of the season, but with the draft combine here and now, I can’t go another day without posting something.
At forward for the Bruins only Recchi and Ryder are unsigned unrestricted free agents. Brad Marchand is an RFA, and as this is his entry contract and he’s played just one full year the Bruins have all the leverage.
Top forward prospects, in no particular order include:
Max Suave who’s fast, has hands that will make any goal scoring aficionado drool, and a long injury history. At 6’2 and 184 he’s a bit wiry. This is if not his last year to make the club certainly the year he needs to hit 30 goals or 65+ points in Providence and stay healthy.
Jordan Caron, in essence he only has to do two things at camp next year a: bring his A game, b: remain consistent. He made the team out of camp this year, got second line minute, and penalty kill time under our fairly conservative coach. Of all the top six potential forwards he’s the only one listed over 200lbs, by the Bruins.
Jamie Arniel, after a day at rookie camp and watching the second of the rookie games at the Boston Garden last fall, I predicted he’d be the first Providence Bruin called up and he proved me right. Remorseless work ethic, was the leading scorer in Providence last year topping the charts with 27 goals and 50 points. This is the final year of his entry contract. While most projections list him as bottom six forward in the NHL systems vary and Juliens could favor him if he brings full effort. 5’11 193.
Ryan Spooner, pure fun to watch. Amazing puck disher I heard comparisons to Marc Savard like passing at rookie camp and the rookie game. One ace he may have up his sleeve is faceoff performance, which goes well with a solid shot and great vision. He did spend the year in Juniors where he set a point per game pace for two different teams, and in the playoffs. Not exactly imposing, at 5 10 17o. Finished the year with the P-Bruins.
Jared Knight won three awards among them hardest working player on his team this year. He also lead his team in scoring. Having added enough mass to top 200lbs, his relentless drives for the goal scoring areas are likely to be harder to stop this year than last. If you haven’t seen the goal scoring highlight reel on Youtube, go look. Like Spooner he finished off his playing year in Providence collecting a pair of assists.
What the Bruins lack in general is the aggressive, physical power forward type that has been key to the success of the team in the bodies of Horton and Lucic this year. Bergeron, Seguin, Krejci and Marchand are hugely talented but none of them tops two hundred lbs and adding a little more size to some of the teams speed could make them even better.
Defense is honestly the position I find the Bruins depth thinnest at. Kaberle and Hnidy are the expiring contracts, and I expect to see Kaberle resigned for at least a year or two unless he unexpectedly retires. Steve Kampfer is likely graduated to full time duty and then we get the true prospects.
Yury Alexandrov is a Russian prospect with a couple years experience in the KHL. He was second in scoring for defensemen on the lackluster Providence Bruins last season. Fairly small, but smooth skating. Spoke no English when arriving last year. Had a better +/- at -6 than the leading scorer for defensemen on the P-Bruins last year. Hockey’s future lists him as a potential 5-6 man at the NHL level.
Ryan Button, freshly signed to his entry level deal he’s listed just above Alexandrov on Hockeysfuture.com, the is another smaller defensemen projected towards the middle or end of the depth chart. Well respected in various circles for work ethic. Played the final seven games of the Providence series.
Matt Bartkowski, was called up for six games, including the Montreal game in which Chara was ejected for the hit on Pacioretty where he saw over 13 minutes of ice time. In six games he was a -1, with no points. This probably doesn’t reflect on him. His latest callup was during a funk in Boston that saw losses to half the leagues bottom feeders. Was the last cut at training camp. Could be called a smaller Boycjuck.
David Worsofsky, college player very small, agile picked up 3 assists in 10 games with Providence last year. Unlikely to see the NHL this year. Almost purely an offensive defensemen. Pro-comparison would put him in a similar mold to Marc-Andre Bergeron.
Colby Cohen, picked up in exchange for Matt Hunwick he’s billed as an offensive defensemen with passable ability in his own zone, was one of the few players and the only defensemen to finish the season in Providence with a positive +/- at +5. Projects as another 4-6 guy. Played three games in an Avalanche uniform before being traded.
These are the best of the guys signed for next year. None of whom projects to the type of number two or number three defenseman who can run a powerplay and or lead the defense if Chara is injured, suspended or in the penalty box.
Goaltending, while Tim Thomas does impressive things in net on a regular basis, and Rask has had an admirable career so far, that is about all that can be said for the Bruins goaltending. Khudobin is a UFA and will likely get an NHL or KHL contract of some sort next year, Schaefer is not a viable choice, and Zane Gotheberg is going the college route so he’s unlikely to be seen for three or more years.
Michael Hutchinson played just 28 games in Providence this year, allowed five goals in four of those occasions one of which was a win, had one shut out. In Reading of the ECHL he had better numbers than in Providence. It’s hard to tell how much is the the problem of the first year pro, and how much was just an underwhelming Providence club.
That’s it, after Rask and Thomas there is one goalie signed for next season to fill two Providence slots, two Reading slots and cover for injuries at all three levels.
Strong top three defenseman.
Goaltending depth, even if these pieces are dealt later.
If the Thrashers move to Winnipeg, itself a ‘failed’ NHL market becomes a reality, it will be for much the same reason. Not because of a failure to draft well, not because some inviolabe law of the universe prevents winning in that location. It won’t even be because no one cared. Hell, we can all name quote unquote bad sports markets that have had teams win championships.
There’s a movie, about a much lesser sport that has is famous for the line “if you build it they will come” this truth is of course how hundreds of towns get on the map and draw tourists and their willing wallets all over the continent. Everything from the biggest ball of yarn, to corn mazes, and all manner of other things people might find interesting if they are in the area, or can make an excuse to be there. The owners of the Atlanta Thrashers have failed to heed this truism. They didn’t build, they didn’t retain, they simply expected people to show up for something. To create a new tradition, you must first make it attractive. Winning is the most attractive thing possible in sports. The Thrashers never have. They had Ilya Kovalchuk, Marc Savard, Marian Hossa all at once. All. At. Once. ALL! AT! ONCE! What did they do with this embarrassment of riches? They embarrassed themselves. They failed to secure the additional talent to put them over the top. They then failed to secure any of the three franchise quality players to long term deals.
Instead, what they did was squabble, bicker, name call and engage in litigation against each other. Another truism I think everyone is familiar with is “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”, business men are supposed to be in the business of making money not headlines. Atlanta Spirit, unlike the ownership in Phoenix weren’t saddled with an atrocious lease, they owned the building. They weren’t a driving force behind the team, they weren’t even the quiet spider at the center of a web quietly pulling strings. They had celebrity fans who with even a little bit of success could have helped turn the Thrashers into a cash cow.
Insufferable arrogance, breathtaking ignorance, grotesque levels of laziness are a recipe for failure and in this case the brain trust that is Atlanta Spirit have contrived to brew it to excellence.
Bergeron was in and on. Tim Thomas was much more focused and contained than he has been in the first two games of the series. The defense remembered their job title. With these three things the Bruins win was almost a given.
Bergeron was just a dominant force wherever he was on the ice. Faceoff circle he won sixty four percent. His passes which are possibly his weakest offensive asset looked like Savard or Thornton at their best, particularly the one through Brewer to Peverley who was rolling straight into the crease. His penalty kill time was flawless. Let’s not forget he played over 19 minutes tonight and that’s as much as two minutes more than he averaged in the regular season and more than any other Bruins forward and behind only Seidenberg and Chara in total minutes.
In the first two games of the series I was genuinely worried about the play of Tim Thomas. This is rare. I wanted him to be the Bruins starter since the first time he was called up and I saw him in net. He’s just so damned fun to watch. In the first two games of the series he was not focused on the puck, his tracking of the puck carrier and most likely pass was off. At almost any point in the regular season the Kaberle turnover in game two doesn’t go in. As we’ve learned over the past few seasons, when Thomas is well primed by several games of play close together he’s in the zone and works magic. Tonight he was on his game, in focus and had 31 saves.
As a whole, including Kaberle, the Bruins defense was impressive. despite the Lightning finishing with a shot advantage, the Bruins had more offensive zone time simply because they took the puck away so much in the neutral zone. More importantly in their defensive zone, they allowed Thomas to see the first shot, and then gave him room to either smoother the puck or pass it along to an open player. There were very few bobbles, little frustration and lots of patience.
Paille was in over Thornton, but played a nearly invisible six minutes. Seguin looked very crisp, but was well covered by the much improved defensive structure of Tampa Bay. Ryder had a quietly impressive game. At one point the UFA to be ran over Marc-Andre Bergeron in the offensive zone. Late in the game he was key to the Ference goal, and all night he had his feet moving, stick on the ice and head on a swivel. Lucic had a solid game despite only getting one shot on goal and two hits. He setup the opening goal drawing Hedman out of position and allowing Krejci enough time to retie his skates, sing the Canadian, American, and Czech national anthems before tucking the puck in for the game winner at the 1:09 mark of the game. Particularly amusing was the manic stylings of Steve Downie late in the game, at the start of the third period he very nearly got a penalty when lined up opposite Brad Marchand who took advantage of all the free real estate and got into the erratic Bolt’s head.
I was very glad to hear Max Pacioretty was moving and speaking at the hospital. In the five + seasons Zdeno Chara has been in a Boston uniform, I have bought four jerseys, one another defensemen, none of them his. I have also played sports and been knocked out, as well as having been in car accidents. In his eleven year, nearly thousand game career Zdeno Chara has been suspended, just once, for one game for an incident during a fight.
Before looking at the video, lets do our due diligence and look at what’s going on, and where the players are looking before and after the contact is made. Chara and Pacioretty are looking at each other before contact. After contact Chara is looking forward for the puck, and the play.
Next, one should consider the physics involved. The two are skating, at a good clip, neither is exactly the fastest skater in the NHL, but for the sake of discussion we’ll say 15 miles per hour. Pacioretty is 6’2 and listed at 196lbs. Chara is 6’9 and listed at 255. My math says that the difference is over 1/3rd of Pacioretty’s total body weight.
Last thing to examine is emotion, or as some might phrase it in cases like this, intent. Chara, is yapping, Pacioretty is yapping, both are skating. Neither has started engaging in the spears, slashes, punches, facewashes and other behavior that indicate severe frustration in hockey players. Neither was slowing or clutching at the other in prelude to a fight. When we see Chara immediately after the hit, there is none of the tell tale signs we’ve all seen when Chara pops his top.
One other thing, Zdeno Chara has been on the ice when his teammates have been seriously injured. He’s witnessed Quebec’s own Patrice Bergeron get concussed twice. He’s witness Marc Savard get concussed, he saw David Krejci get smashed by Adam Mair, he was front row for Andrew Alberts getting blasted while making a play from his knees.
So what did we see? We saw Pacioretty and Chara skating along the boards, neither one paying attention to anything but each other. We see Pacioretty start in Chara’s direction. We then see Chara counter hit, with again his greater mass, and see Chara continue skating toward the action.
My background education is in psychology. And I have quite a temper myself. Of all the things I can tell you that are relevant to both of those and this incident, I can tell you that that when I, and most people are ticked off enough to intentionally harm another, we want to watch. We can’t help it. We know when we’ve done it, and we tend to put a good deal of effort into it.
So, let’s look again. Chara extended his arms not his whole body, no stick, no skate on skate contact and above all no head contact. You saw Zdeno Chara keep skating forward without ever pausing. Now, since we’ve all seen Chara fight before after losing his cool, and we’ve seen when the officials keep him from going at it with other players. In all of those cases Chara has attention for nothing other than going hard towards the puck and the play.
So in review:
No history of discipline not directly related to a fight, and none at all in the past five years.
Chara has repeated close, personal experience with players getting bad head injury.
Physics (speed and mass differential) dictate that contact at this point will unfavorable to Pacioretty.
Pacioretty made the initial move towards contact.
Despite the more than half foot of height difference with the larger player reaching down to contact, there is no head contact.
Chara did not put his full weight, stick, body or attentioninto the contact.
Chara was not focused on Pacioretty after contact.
While people up and down Twitter, and no doubt other social media have compared this to the Bertuzzzi incident of years ago, its hard to find any real parallel. What happened was unfortunate, no question about it. Had the hit happened three strides further back, or three strides forward no one would have noticed anything other than Chara accumulating yet another career hit. I can understand the interference call, even the major. A suspension would be curious for a routine hit, in an unfortunate location when both players are moving at full speed.
With each teams top two centers out today, the Penguins and Bruins faceoff. Both teams are chasing the Flyers, who are facing the hungry and reinforced Buffalo Sabres. If Buffalo wins today when the Bruins and Penguins take their first shifts the Bruins would have the chance to get within one point of the conference leader, and the Penguins could get to within four.
Who steps up for the Bruins, Patrice Bergeron is a huge part of the Bruins winning equation and he joins Marc Savard on the outside looking in today.
With two of the top defensive teams facing off, will this stay a defensive battle as one might predict or will it become a run and gun game like the Bruins Buffalo game of New Years Day?
Which goalies will we see? Both Thomas and Fluery will need to be well rested for the playoffs, but this is a big game.
How many minutes will Jordan Staal play? He’s topped 29 minutes since the down-checking of Crosby and Malkin at least once.
Who wins the special teams battle? Neither team has an impressive PP this year, while the Penguins have the top PK which they employ a bit more than they probably want to.