Aside from David Pastrnak crumbling under light contact from a not very physical defenseman, camp was largely an exhibition of which pairings and trios acquired chemistry the fastest, and which people in the stands could survive the chill.

Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien at Bruins Training Camp 09/20/14

Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien at Bruins Training Camp 09/20/14

One of the more intriguing and yet low key battles is between former Dartmouth College forward Matt Lindblad and Michigan native, London Knight alumni Jared Knight. The two were paired against each other on day one and engaged in spirited but professional battles through drills and rushes. Day two, more of the same. It’s pretty close. Knight is more skilled. Knight’s shot has a better, more concealed release, and is a bit truer to the net. Lindblad is two years older, and has had better health over the last two years. Whoever comes out ahead in camp, team, players and fans win.

From the rest of camp:

Trotman: Ate Villie Leino a couple times on a drills and looked both good by himself and when paired with Bartkowski.

Khokhlochev & Eriksson watch Breen and others drill below the faceoff dots.

Khokhlochev & Eriksson watch Casto #65 and others drill below the faceoff dots.

Caron: Better day today.

Krejci and Caron eye up goalies and defensemen.

Krejci and Caron eye up goalies and defensemen.

Khokholachev: Deceptively agile and speedy, good hands, went around the enormous Breen and his reach to get off a shot with zero warning.

Alexander Khokhlochev watching drills.

Alexander Khokhlochev watching drills.

Bartkowski; Arguably the best defenseman at skating backwards in camp. Good speed and balance while he does it allowing him to turn in either direction as needed.

Griffith: Looked like he’d been playing with Bergeron and Marchand for a year during drills.

Subban: The new pads were repeatedly referred to as “Turco like” by various fans watching.

Malcolm Subban in his 2014 pads

Malcolm Subban in his 2014 pads

 

Morrow: Made a really nice backhand pass to McQuaid while both were moving at pace.

Matt Lindblad #52 and Ethan Werek #78 leave eyeball prints all over the rink.

Matt Lindblad #52 and Ethan Werek #78 leave eyeball prints all over the rink.

Lucic: Much more engaged today, accidentally took out both defenders during a two on two drill allowing Kelly to go five hole on the goalie.

Seidenberg #44, Cross #56, Lucic #17

Seidenberg #44, Cross #56, Lucic #17

Simonelli: Interesting resume, four years at Wisconsin, and some time on the US National Development team. both yesterday and today he was frequently paired with Seidenberg for drills.

Hamilton is pretty frequently seen watching the other session, usually while trying to hide.

Hamilton is pretty frequently seen watching the other session, usually while trying to hide.

Ferlin; Out-muscled Paille to get to a puck despite Paille having the inside position and a lower center of gravity. Did more than one drill with Lucic and looked like he could easily be part of more than one NHL team we could name.

Fraser #25 and Soderberg #34 size up the competition

Fraser #25 and Soderberg #34 size up the competition

Robbins: Made a really neat kick of a puck from the heel of his skate to the curve of his blade, made one or two other plays with his feet.

Robin, Batman

Day 1 is here.

It’s that time of year, when anyone who hasn’t managed to completely abandon social responsibility goes into hibernation for several hours a couple times a week. The NHL playoffs are here.

1: New York Rangers vs 8: Ottawa Senators

The Rangers have the advantages in goaltending, in playoff experience, penalty kill and in team toughness. That’s not to say the Senators are pushovers, but the Rangers had 10 more fighting majors than the Senators. The Senators own a noticeably better powerplay, a more powerful offense overall, and better leadership. Age is roughly the same with the Senators have a larger spread between their players ages.

On paper the Rangers should win this series handily. Unfortunately we don’t know how healthy Lundquist is (again) and the Senators won the regular season series against the “superior team”.

2: Boston Bruins vs 7: Washington Capitals

Can you say goalie issues? I knew that you could! The Boston Bruins still have a healthy Tim Thomas and that’s a damned spiffy thing to have. Unfortunately between the two teams there are two goalies who have never played an NHL playoff game (Khudobin, Holtby), one goalie ineligible to play at all (Turco), and count ’em three goalies currently injured (Rask, Vokoun, Neuvirth) which makes for exciting times for the coaches. For the Capitals who were likely to find themselves out matched in goal anyways, it makes it worse that their likely starter Brayden Holtby has just 21 NHL games (14-4-3) to his name, and none of them playoff games and only seven of them this season.

The Capitals won the season series against the Bruins, on the other hand three of those games came during that ice defiling slump they were in. The bad news for the Bruins who have since resurrected their team identity is that the Capitals have Backstrom back. On paper I thin almost anyone has to give this series to the Bruins, but the Capitals won’t make it easy.

3: Florida Panthers vs 6: New Jersey Devils

These two teams are both making their return to the second season. The Sons of Sunrise as an organization haven’t been in the playoffs in forever, but Brian Campbell and Kris Versteeg lifted the Stanley Cup together, Samuelsson, Sturm, Bergenheim, Kopecky, Madden, and Jovonovski bring in another 500 or so games of NHL playoff experience as well. The Devils have an odd mix of experience and new blood, Broduer has been there and done that. but almost no one else has seen even the conference finals. Most haven’t made it out of the first round. Ilya Kovalchuk who should be on the Hart Trophy short list has only played in one playoff game in which his team won. Zach Parise hasn’t seen the second round of the playoffs since his second year in the league, and he wasn’t expected to be a cornerstone of the team then. Adam Henrique is of course a rookie, and even though he probably deserves the Calder Trophy, he hasn’t played even one professional playoff game and none since the Memorial Cup run a few years back.

The goals for department favors New Jersey slightly, the goals against is a dead heat. The penalty kill is a walkoff for the Devils, but the Panthers hold the edge in the powerplay. The Panthers both generate and give up more shots than the Devils. This series will probably go the distance, with more playoff experience on the Panthers side, unless MB30 looks like the guy of 10 or even 5 years ago, you should not be shocked if the Panthers advance after their first ever division title.

4: Pittsburgh Penguins vs 5: Philadelphia Flyers

There will be no love in these games. Not unless its a love of winning and rubbing ones opponents face in it. The teams hate each other, the fans would cheerfully massacre the other cities, and the coaches aren’t over fond of each other either. This will be as compelling to watch as last year Boston vs Montreal series, and should be the best opening round matchup in either division.

With the relative tightness of the race, this series will come down to guts and discipline. The Penguins are better at home, the Flyers better on the road. The powerplays have identical proficiency, the penalty killing edge is in the Penguins favor, the teams delivered an identical number of hits, and the Flyers blocked more shots. While neither Bryzgalov nor Fleury did anything they wanna brag about in the last few days of the regular season, neither one had a bad March with the edge going to the Flyers keeper. Fleury has been to the promised land and Bryzgalov has not. That said, Bryzgalov has the better post season save percentage, and Bryzgalovs career save percentage against the Penguins is much, better than Fleury’s against the Flyers (.930 vs .901).

As Jim Ross would say, this one fixes to be a good old fashioned slobber-knocker.

 

Tim Thomas has had an interesting season. He opened the season playing behind a team with five players who were showing up skating in front of him. He played well through that. In October he had a less than modest .929 sv%, and then he got better. In November and December his numbers were off the charts, even by his standards. Since he was part of the backslide that will end up costing the team the nearly meaningless President’s Trophy. Faced criticism for how he chose to spend a day off, and had his popularity on Facebook go from modest to major. He’ll probably eclipse 20,000 likes before the playoffs start.

While whispers have floated that he would retire at the end of the season have surfaced, I’m not entirely certain I believe them. Looking at his last three or four games played he looks to be back to something like the form he was in last season. While it’s hard to imagine him simply seeking more material for his hagiography,  it is worth noting that he is six wins from his 200th career regular season win. He’d have to play and win all six of the remaining regular season games to do that. With Marty Turco having played well on the west coast there may not be a need for that. Given how many games he’s already played this season it might even be counter productive.

As of today he sits 4th all time in wins for the Boston Bruins, not a bad accomplishment for a perennially discarded goalie derided as a flopper right up until he won his first Vezina. With 37 wins he would leapfrog the legendary Gerry Cheevers and Frank Brimsek to take sole possession of second all time in wins for the oldest American franchise in the NHL. If healthy there is no reason he couldn’t do that before the end of next season. His best season to date was 36 wins in 54 games. Should he be extended beyond the one season remaining on his contract, the all time wins lead is 59 games away. If he goes through next season as the number one goaltender, and hits the 37 between now and the end of next season needed to move into #2 all time, even taking a fifty fifty split of games the following season that all time wins total would only be 21 wins away.

Going forward the rest of the season, and post season it is unlikely he plays more than four of the remaining six even with only one back to back. Tuukka Rask has yet to resume skating, and even the lower end of the 4-6 week range puts him as back April 5th, the date of the second to last Bruins game of the season. With Turco unable to play in the post season, it will be up to Thomas, and possibly Khudobin and Hutchinson. It would be dismaying to see either of the latter two in a game, barring the ridiculous it’s unlikely even Rask plays this post season. Tim Thomas fearless rider of Boston cabs, will one way or another be among the most talked about players from April 11th until at least the draft.

In a bold and telling move this morning four teams in the National Hockey League did two things together. The first was a conference call that parts of the transcript will be shown in excerpts below, and the second was issue non contact jersey’s to all their remaining players. In a joint conference call in which they did not answer any questions the General Managers of the Detroit Red Wings, Minnesota Wild, Philadelphia Flyers, and Boston Bruins announced an innovation that may allow one or more of the depleted squads to ice their full NHL roster by October.

Chuck Fletcher got the ball rolling with the opening remarks in which he said:

“Coming off of last nights game in which we lost seven to one to the Colorado Avalanche we realized it was time to make a change. We’re not sure it will be permanent, but when the trainers tell you they need time off for carpal tunnel surgery from applying tape and bandages it’s something you have to look at very closely. Worse, one of our interns reported that Bodog has switched from having an over under on our wins for the rest of the season to an over under on the number of players who will be injured, the number is 9.”

Peter Chiarelli continued the call:

“With the significant injuries we have not just here in Boston but in our AHL affiliate, we knew the time for action had arrived. After sitting down with Cam, and finding someone who could find someone who knew where in Buffalo the Jabobs were, we as a leadership group decided we needed to be at the forefront of addressing this issue. In light of the acquisition of Brian Rolston at the deadline, and the pending acquisition of Marty Turco we’d also like to announce two additional innovations. The first is that no one may shoot anything other than wrist shots and backhanders during practice. The second is that we will be issuing nutritional injections to players daily before practice. In partnership with Centrum Silver we think this is a very smart way to aid our athletes in staying at their peak. “

Ken Holland contributed:

Ordinarily we keep this stuff in house, but even ESPN has noticed the injuries this year. Before I go any further I’d like to take the opportunity to quash the rumor that Jimmy Howard is being held out in the hopes of preventing any further injuries between now and the playoffs. This is not true, both myself and Jim Dellevano take great exception too this, Mr Howard is a hockey player and we have enough trouble keeping him off the ice when he’s got a game scheduled off. But to illustrate how bad the injury situation is, in practice yesterday Mr. Ilitch was taking line rushes on the second line, in battle drills he caught Brad Stuart with a good hit that knocked the wind out of our defenseman. This just illustrates the unneeded danger of full contact practices. Last night was the first time I’ve taken a phone call from Chuck and not been laughing at him before it was over. As an organization the Detroit Red Wings brought to you by Amway we think it’s time to push the league in this bold new direction.

Paul Holmgren finished off the call:

“While rumors are being thrashed, I’ve been assured by both Bryzgalov and his agent that he did not in fact loan his map of the woods to Tim Thomas, please don’t blame him. When two original six GM’s call you up to bounce an idea off you, you know it’s either something absurd like banning fighting or something important. Amazingly considering who else was on the call, it was important. I’d like to congratulate the 28 other general managers in the league for not trading one of their contracts and prospects for a single player during deadline madness. On the injury front I’ve gotta say I miss the days when injuries were the result of head shots, spearing or someone who only throws two hits a year driving someone into the board from behind. In those days we had someone to blame and send guys like Sestito after. Now with these idiot high sticks taking out our captain, and god knows how many groin strains and concussions from running into teammates its just a pile of bullshit. No one to blame, no one is taking responsibility.”

This is certainly an unexpected move on the part of these NHL clubs. One can only wonder if this was done jointly to lower the chances any one of them would get reamed by the likes of Mike Milbury and Don Cherry for further wimpification of the game.

Every year, on every team in any sport on the planet someone is blamed for each failure. The failure doesn’t have to be real, doesn’t have to be their fault, they just end up being blamed. Before last season, and well into early spring Bob Gainey’s named was linked to more jokes than perhaps any other GM in the NHL. With the Smurfs he’d assembled for his forwards, and the money spent on their salaries even his firmest adherents had to wonder what’s he thinking? I didn’t even expect them to make the playoffs, and then they rattled off back to back series wins against the defenseless although offensively gifted Capitals and Penguins.  With his successors offloading of Halak to clear up the goalie controversy, it’s only a matter of time before we find out if Gauthier is similarly ridiculed or at least temporarily granted the status of hockey genius.

In Chicago, Dale Tallon was questioned to the ends of the earth for his unique and singular salary cap arrangements. The BlackHawks won the Cup and most was forgiven. Just days after the bright spot in flyover country celebrated the end of its Stanley Cup drought, the fire sale began.  Over the next several weeks, roughly eighty goals and six thousand* minutes of time on ice would disappear over the trade horizon. If the BlackHawks who finished just ten points ahead of the Detroit Red Wings don’t have a strong showing, who will be fingered? Will Tallon get the blame? Will someone who’s looking at the championship season through the golden glow of never-was claim Turco is a lesser goalie Niemi? Or perhaps the Bowman family mystique will gather a little tarnish and the current GM will be blamed for not getting a better exchange for the departed Versteeg, Sopel, Byfugelien and others?

In Boston, not without a great deal of reason, Denis Wideman and Michael Ryder were the undisputed owners of the dog house. Wideman who’s season is best summed up in the video of him picking his nose, and not just his collision with slighter partner Matt Hunwick but the subsequent fall to the ice was actively booed at home. Ryder was far less spectacular in his gross failures seeming to have just as much positive impact on a given game from the bench as from the ice. Then too there is the fact he is the only person who saw the vicious and career threatening hit on Marc Savard from beginning to end, and did nothing about it. This season with with Wideman banished to hockey (and sports in general) exile in south Florida, Ryder needs to do everything he can to stave off the ire of the fans, and earn his next contract. If he puts in a concerted effort he might just avoid being the most irksome member of the organization. Claude Julien is probably the man next most likely to find himself on the outs with fans. His loyalty to players is both a gift and a curse, he undeniably wanted Ryder and Wideman to succeed last season and gave them every opportunity to do so. Yet, the refusal to sit either of them for even a period, much less a game or two in the press box provided no incentive for an admittedly thin AHL prospect group to do better, and an early benching of two long time ‘coaches guys’ might have kept the Bruins from having to dump Derek Morris.  Punishments that that are aimed at the principle and pour encourager les autres are a long, long tradition because they work.

It will be will be interesting to see who emerges as their teams scapegoat this year. Will the blame be at ice level as is likely in some cases? Will General Managers like George McFee be called on the carpet for failing to improve their teams defense, if (when) they are ripped apart in the playoffs for this very failing again? Will Rick Nash, RJ Umberger and Steve Mason get all the blame in Columbus for a team with more than seven million in cap space failing to make any noise in the playoffs? How about the situation in Nashville? They have two of the best defensemen in the NHL in Weber and Suter, and not a great deal else. Will the coach be cast from the chariot at the end of the season (or sooner) if they fail to thrive? And too, one must wonder who is to blame for the status of the Islanders new arena.

*Six thousand is roughly a quarter of the 24,600 minutes of play by skaters in each season assuming no penalties.

There were just two other bloggers brave enough to take part in my UFA Challenge. They are Brian LeBlanc of NC Sports Talk and Ty Anderson Bruins blogger at Hockey Independent.

One of the more interesting differences was on defense, where not a single man made all three squads. Lilja was on both mine and Brian’s teams with $100,000 separating the two salaries.

For total payrolls, I kinda outspent the others, but happen to think I also have a better team. Not that I think any of the three could win the Cup.  I spent $57.4 M, and probably have the youngest average age. Ty spend $52.7 (on one fewer player) and probably put together the grittiest forward group. Brian spend less than either of us with a total cap hit of $49.2 and probably has the most name players at forward and goal.

Brian and Ty picked the same goalie tandem of Turco and Nittimaki, all three of us put Kovulchuk at around the $9m mark. Much as I loved Miro “The Hero” Satan in Boston, I think Allan Walsh would prefer to sit down and negotiate a real contract with either Ty or Brian more than myself.

For more puck talk, follow us at Twitter:

Me: @pucksage

Brian: @puckdrops

Ty: @_TyAnderson

But not until you go tell those two what you think of their entries.