With Mike Fisher’s injury given a preliminary recover time that takes until about the time of the Winter Classic, assuming no set backs, the Nashville Predators are now in dire need of a quality center. Having spent the assets to acquire James Neal and Filip Forsberg in the last fifteen months, the time and the circumstances are right to double down and aim for a playoff position again.

Shea Weber is signed, rested, and should have a chip on his shoulder after another season where he probably should have gotten the Norris, or at least finished second. Seth Jones has spent a year learning the NHL. Craig Smith and Colin Wilson are now tested NHL players who have weathered the storm of disastrous seasons. Most importantly Pekka Rinne is healthy and ready for the hunt.

Out on the coast are the Boston Bruins, for many reasons the team is in cap jail and the situation isn’t going to get better any time soon with Soderberg, Boychuck, McQuaid, and Hamilton all due new contracts next year, and that’s with Torey Krug and Reilly Smith still unsigned right now. With moderate salary increases you’re likely looking at about $12 million in salary minimum between these players. Someone has to go.

Bergeron has a no movement clause and trading him for anything less than 6 first round draft picks, the Holy Grail and a roster player is likely to result in Peter Chiarelli being burned in effigy outside the Garden, (and also lower concessions, ticket sales and merchandise).  Chris Kelly, when healthy, is a great penalty killer, a top shelf checking line center, and the type of all around good dude that teams seek out, unfortunately he finished last season on the shelf, and has a full no trade clause. He’s also not the type of center the Nashville Predators currently need.  Greg Campbell is a fourth line version of Kelly with all the same problems, excepting the no trade clause.

Realistically, that leaves Carl Soderberg who has one season of NHL play to set his value and David Krejci. Krejci has found success with wingers as varied as Milan Lucic Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler, and incidentally lead the NHL in post season scoring. Moving Soderberg has essentially no impact on the Boston Bruins cap situation, it would give them about $2.6 million in cap space, about enough to renew Krug and Smith if the brass turns the screws and risks alienating both players and their agents but not really enough to add a replacement as well.

That makes David Krejci the default candidate, that he’s also the most likely to bring in a quality return is fortuitous for the Bruins. If you use the Phil Kessel trade as a benchmark you will get back a solid return and don’t spend any roster space on it. If you go with something closer to the Joe Thornton trade you retool with a mixed bag. Brad Stuart was the best defenseman on the roster when he arrived, Marco Sturm would play for several seasons and score the winning goal in the Bruins only Winter Classic appearance.

Many observers would say the Boston Bruins and Nashville Predators are both a crossroads. The Predators need to reach and advance in the playoffs if they are to be financially solvent, and grow their fanbase. The Boston Bruins have several talented prospects at center where the risk is stagnation and regression with an speedy return to a system and roster that looks like the 2005-06 roster if they don’t promote one or more players. The NHL and all it’s feeder leagues are better when more teams are competitive.

The right trade for both teams is one where both teams win. The Predators need to reestablish the themselves as a playoff team if they hope to extend James Neal, and you have to be pretty jaded not to imagine fans in Smashville enjoying a line with David Krejci centering James Neal and Filip Forsberg.

In life, in business, in relationships and in the NHL, neither success nor failure are instant. On occasion it appears that a team or business has succeeded or failed in the blink of an eye, what you are seeing is that iceberg tip those final twenty stories of a skyscraper that bring it above the rest. On July one, Peter Chiarelli and Cam Neely swept over the horizon and promptly fell flat on their faces. They made exactly one move on the day. They signed a no name plugger who will likely never see NHL action in a Bruins uniform.

But where does this spectacular failure stem from? Last season yes they went over the cap by about 4.7 million. Yes, with that money they could have kept Jarome Iginla, but they’d still have needed to come up with money for rookie sensations Torey Krug and Reilly Smith, and likely Matt Bartkowski and or Matt Fraser. But why did they get to this place? How? When they won the Stanley Cup they had more depth than last year at every position, they had as much youth, they were just as close to the cap (they went over that year too).

The answer lies in the composition of the roster. There is exactly one player on who played most or all of last season in Boston who was drafted and developed since Peter Chiarelli took over, and that’s Dougie Hamilton. One of 23. You can add in Ryan Spooner if you’re feeling generous since he was exceptional at the AHL level and held a place for a good stretch of games mid season as well. If you go back to the Cup year, Tyler Seguin was the lone player to be drafted and developed here and well, he didn’t last long.

Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, are all players that were drafted before he took the helm. Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk, Loui Erikssn, and all the rest were either brought in via trade or free agency. The player not named Seguin (Dallas Stars) and or Hamilton to be drafted since Chiarelli took over is Jordan Caron. He of course has produced less points than Shawn Thornton during his tenure.

What does this mean? It means the Boston Bruins have overpaid for free agents from Michael Ryder,  Steve Begin, and Joe Corvo and spent too much to get under achievers like Tomas Kaberle in trade. It means that instead of bring up young players like the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks, they brought in guys who no one will remember fondly like Peter Schaefer, Andrew Bodnarchuk, and Jay Pandolfo because the draft has been largely an excuse for other teams to laugh down their sleeves at consistently inept drafting.

The overpayment on free agents has translate into what can conservatively be figured at a 10% increase in the salary many of the Bruins developed players have received since. It means that instead of drafting players who fit the system, Peter Chiarelli and company have waited until two or even three years of RFA status of a player have been burned meaning not only will they over pay these players  who have little to no loyalty to the team, it means that even if they aren’t overpaid they will likely hobble the team with an unneeded no trade or no movement clause for a player who is a nice fit but is eminently replaceable.

This level of personnel mismanagement also means bafflingly bad trades that give up guys like Vladimir Sobotka and Kris Versteeg for guys no one remembers the names of. After half a decade and what most regard as a flukey Stanley Cup win the Bruins attempted a course correction with a change in scouting directors. The first run with the new leader shows he probably has as deft a touch in his current position, as his more famous brother had at coaching in the desert.

Cap mismanagement, inability to draft and negligible ability to recognize which players can be got without a no movement or no trade clause, and an over devotion to player like Caron and Hamill who consistently fail to live up to expectations that’s a hell of a dossier for his next position.

The President’s Trophy winning Boston Bruins are going to be watching the final two rounds of the playoffs from Slovakia, Finland, Toronto, and Michigan and points all over the world. What they won’t be doing is playing any more. For a number of reasons, and with the play of several players being disappointing, they didn’t have enough to get the job done.

Zdeno Chara:

At no point in the playoffs was Zdeno Chara a dominant player. Against Detroit he was effective, and at times in the Montreal series he was visible. Not one minute of the Montreal series did he look like a Norris trophy worthy defenseman. We know he had some sort of hand/wrist injury that limited him measurably. He had three games against Montreal with one or zero shots. He totaled ten shots in seven games against Montreal, and twelve shots in five games against Detroit. He seemed to skate at about his normal level, without any moments where he hustled up ice to beat a rushing attacker (this could be good or bad, as the number of rushes when he was on the ice was fairly low) as we’ve occasionally seen. Was he awful? Only in-comparison to his best, he was honestly average, aggressively average in this post season.

David Krejci:

If ever there was a player who wore their current mental state like a one man-band kit, it is Krejci. When he’s dialed in, his passes are crisp, he makes clever lateral moves, and he moves the puck either as a pass or a shot at exactly the right time. When the signal gets fuzzy, he’s ruinous, he dangles more than Tomas Kaberle, his passes are as deft as a walrus on stairs, and he just doesn’t shoot. For the first five games we got bad Krejci, Lucic and Iginla would have charged up ice and gotten to the net, he’d be almost into the zone. The light of good Krejci did strobe briefly across the ice in game six, but it was merely a cameo. When the center isn’t there to control the middle of the ice, the plug is pulled on the whole system. In Julien’s system this is arguably the most important skating position.

Tuukka Rask:

Let’s start with the numbers:

  • Game 1 4 goals allowed SV% of .879
  • Game 2 3 goals allowed SV% of .893
  • Game 3 3 goals allowed SV% of .880
  • Game 4 0 goals allowed SV% of 1.000
  • Game 5 2 goals allowed SV% of .935
  • Game 6 4 goals allowed SV% of .857
  • Game 7 3 goals allowed SV% of .833

Two of the series wins are pretty easy to pick out. The third win? You can’t look at those numbers and say “this one”, you just can’t. By comparison, Marc-Andre Fleury put up better numbers in his seven game series than Rask. Was the defense in front of Rask perfect? No, but he was not only below average for him, in this series he was below average for the the NHL. He wasn’t alone, but as a goalie, the last mistake was his to make, and he did. frequently. Best of all, there’s only three more years left on his $7,000,000.00 a year contract that have the full no movement clause.

The Rest:

Its pretty easy to go through the roster and find players not named Torey Krug or Patrice Bergeron or Dougie Hamilton, or Carl Soderberg and say they were a or the problem. Kevan Miller and Matt Bartkowski were on again off again good to bad. While Miller was making his playoff debut, and has a grand total of 11 playoff games and 47 regular season contests Bartkowski is a bit more experienced with last years 15 playoff games and a total of 84 NHL regular season events. Meszaros was a non factor. Marchand while not potting any goals on several pretty open cages, still created turnovers, made several key passes, and played hard. Eriksson was not what we hoped, but he wasn’t awful, like most of the rest he was pretty average.

The Fatal Flaw:

What killed the Bruins in this series was two things; trepidation and inexperience. The biggest regrets any player should have this summer is the things they didn’t do and they way they didn’t play. Against the Wings and for most of the regular season they were physical, rough men who who stood ready to win at any costs. Against the Habs they played terrified to step into the penalty box. That little corner of the arena looking back  at the team that several players were so familiar with, some how became taboo. Players didn’t commit to the system and they allowed the Canadiens to dictate the way the game was played.  When you’re in a bad matchup, you can’t play your opponents style and win. No matter what style you play, half your roster can’t be playing  like its a father son game full of 11 year olds. Not if you expect to win.

We’re four games into the latest battle in a playoff war that stretches back to before the grandparents of several players on either side were born. We’ve seen one goaltender continue a career year, one defensemen further etch his name into league history, a call up redefine the series with a single shot, and a man who waited half a decade to make his NHL debut outshine his entire team. And someone still needs to win two games.

For the Montreal Canadiens, they came into the series and odd form of underdog. Yes the finished a distant third in the division, a long way down from the President’s Trophy Winning Boston Bruins. But they also won the season series between the teams and most of the last double handful of regular season games.

What’s gotten them this far:

  • Carey Price has been spectacular. He’s got three games in this series with a sv% of .929 or better, and seems to be stopping everything.
  • Offensively, P.K. Subban has been top notch. He’s gotten timely goals on the powerplay and at even strength and has piled up six points in four games which is more than a little good.

What they need to do to win the series:

  • Find a way to smother the third line. Carl Soderberg has been the most consistent Bruins forward this series, he’s been 1/4th of an inch from scoring or assisting on a goal a dozen times and they can’t get allowing that.
  • Keep Price’s lines of sight clear, when there have been any amount of bodies in front, goals are going in.
  • Spend more time in the offensive zone, the amount of shot, and shot attempts they’ve given up makes it shocking they are even in the series.

The Boston Bruins entered the post season prohibitive favorites. They were expected to run the board and have time to take a 3 day cruise to the Bahamas between rounds. After a gaffe against the Red Wings (who also won the season series against the Bruins) the Kings of Causeway laid rubber from Boston to Motown and back.

What’s gotten them this far:

  • Patrice Bergeron (four points), Zdeno Chara (+5), Brad Marchand (5pts +6) have been the stars they’re billed as.
  • Depth and balance, despite Krejci’s wasted minutes, others have been around to fill the void; Smith, Fraser, Paille have taken his ignored burden and spread it on their own shoulders.
  • Better coaching, Claude Julien, Doug Houda and company have outmaneuvered their opposite number.

What they need to do to win the series:

  • Get Lucic and Iginla some help, it doesn’t matter if they locate Krejci’s drive and hockey sense or put someone else between them, the number of times these two, one 240 or so and the the other a soon to be 37 year old have made it to the net or corners while Krejci is almost in the zone or just entering is staggering.
  • Prop up Rask’s confidence any way they can. He’s got exactly one game this series with a sv% over .894. No one expects him to be stellar all the time, but average isn’t something he should be looking up at.
  • Communicate better from the bench to the penalty box, they’ve had brain farts in front of the net, at the offensive blueline, and everywhere else.

There is no extreme advantage in this series. Head to head the Canadiens have produced better results, but against the league at large the Bruins are handily better. The Bruins have won a Stanley Cup more recently, but there is a lot of playoff experience on the Montreal roster as well.

With each first round series begun, it is time to take our first serious look at who might be carrying around the extra hardware this summer.

Before we get to the men still playing there are some honorable mentions that had individually stellar first rounds. Out west that list is headed by pending UFA Paul Stastny who contributed not just a lot of points, but timely ones. In the east no one deserves more respect than Steve Mason who came into the second season behind a pretty porous defense and put up a more than respectable .939 Sv%.

West:

  • Ryan Suter, 29:14 a night is more minutes a night than any one else still playing. His 14 hits and 15 blocked shots blocked piled up in 8 games.
  • Anze Kopitar, the Selke finalist leads all players in post season points with 13 through 8 games, 51.6% on the faceoff dot, and is a +5 to go with it.
  • Ryan Getzlaf, seven games, 9 points, 3 power play points, a shorthanded point, and a +3 say he’s doing the job in all three zones and all situations over almost 22 minutes a night is quite the workout for a forward.
  • Jonathan Toews, three game winning goals in seven games, 23:16 a night in TOI, and 62.5% in the faceoff circle are a step or three above good.

East:

  • P.K. Subban, 6 games, 2 goals, 7 assists, 9 points, leads the Canadiens in scoring.
  • Torey Krug over the regular season his ice time has increased 2:30, his on ice save percentage has climbed, he’s a point per game in the most defensive minded system left in the playoffs.
  • Henrik Lundqvist, through eight games he’s allowed 2 or less goals in six games. His sv% is up over the regular season, and of all the goalies left, he’s the only one not playing behind someone in the top 15 in post season scoring.
  • Paul Martin 7 games, 8 points, three powerplay points, 2 shorthanded points, +7, 27:29 of TOI, 20 blocked shots, arguably.

Honorable mentions still playing, Evgani Malkin, Tuukka Rask, Corey Perry, Patrick Kane, Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Lars Eller, Corey Crawford, Drew Doughty, Zach Parise, Marian Gaborik, Matt Niskanen, Marc Staal.

 

The only original six matchup of the first round could send the victor to a second round matchup with another original six team. For now the Boston Bruins, the team that has dominated the east for the last few years faces off with the Detroit Red Wings the model franchise of the west for many years. The contrast in syles, club directions, and cities couldn’t be greater. One similarity is that both teams have enormous, passionate fans all over the globe. You can’t follow either the team on the road and not spot jerseys for the visitors and hear the chants urging them on.

Boston Bruins

The Bruins did something they haven’t done in a while, finished the regular season with home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. They have had a lot of turnover since they last raised Lord Stanley’s Cup; gone are Michael Ryder, Andrew Ference, Rich Peverley, Tim Thomas, Mark Recchi, Tomas Kaberle, and Tyler Seguin. In their place are Reilly Smith, Jarome Iginla, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Dougie Hamilton, Loui Erikson. The structure is the same, the mind behind the bench unchanged but the attributes of the men in the spoked-B is rather different.

Best Players

Patrice Bergeron who scored the cup clinching goal not long ago has had his second highest goal scoring season, Zdeno Chara is still the best shutdown defenseman in the league. Jarome Iginla enjoyed yet another 30 goal season, Tuukka Rask had stellar numbers, and David Krejci and Milan Lucic are proving it almost doesn’t matter who is on their line that they will succeed with whoever.

X-Factor

The young Bruins have to stay focused on the very quick, highly talented stars of the Wings and not be dazzled or rattled by Datsyuk, Zetterberg (if he plays) or otherwise fall into Babcock’s inevitable plan to pull the Bruins out of their physical, space denial game.

 

Detroit Red Wings

It was an open question if the Red Wings would make it into the playoffs at all. The fact that they did means Mike Babcock is likely to come up short on votes but still have a great claim to the Jack Adams award for best coach. This roster was riven with injuries, is aging, and no one would have been surprised if their playoff streak finally expired. The good news for the Red Wings is that the Bruins are a good matchup for them.

Best Players

Pavel Datsyuk is not the man he was five years ago, but he is still capable of breath taking plays. Gustav Nyquist was an unknown a fistful of months ago, today he’s the guy who led the Red Wings in goal scoring despite playing just 57 games. Kronwall is one of the best hitters in the NHL and woe to anyone who doesn’t keep their head up. Daniel Alfredsson at 41 is still showing there’s gas in the tank and led the team in scoring, his 121 NHL playoff games, with 100 points in them, is more than many of the Boston Bruins defense total NHL games.

X-Factor

With the injuries they’ve suffered, and the ones they will no doubt collect in the opening games, can this team hang with a deeper squad that is just as well coached? This team had one player crack 20 goals in a Wings uniform, while the opponent had two cross 30 and two more over 20. If as the road team Babcock can consistently create the right matchups to win the series, it will be his finest coaching job to date.

The NHL has seen a lot of things in its time. Full fledged bench emptying brawls, skates that cut necks and knees, changes to the rules for icing, and even the glowing puck. Each of those has come and gone, and some will be seen again. The NHL and how it is perceived in the world have survived all of those things pretty well. I’m not sure the hockey world is ready to embrace Patrice Bergeron as a frequent flier in the church of sin.

Sure Bergeron plays on every inch of the ice doing whatever is needed to push the team along towards success. He’s killed penalties, played in all possible spots on the power play and skated with some highly questionable “N”HL talent some years. What he’s never done is be among the Bruins PIM leaders. Of the currently active Boston Bruins just three guys sit ahead of him, two of them got their with a combined seven fights, Jarome Iginla and Milan Lucic, and Brad Marchand got their partly on reputation and partly because he’s Brad Marchand being Brad Marchand.

Any one who’s watched Bergeron play over the years has seen him frequently enter a battle along the boards or at the blue line, engage full force and walk away with the puck. What we haven’t seen him do is take many penalties. His career high for penalty minutes was during the 2009-10 season when he racked up just 28 over the course of 73 games. This season in a slim 36 games he’s already up to 25, including his first regular season NHL fight. A fight which came only a little over six months after a playoff bout with Evgeni Malkin.

The operative question is: Why? He hadWhen you add up with the number of penalty plays that can be laid at the feet of frustration in the last year or so, you have to ask what is causing this?

Possibility A:

  • He’s unhappy with the effort one or more of his teammates are bringing to the game night in and night out.

If so, he’s in theory trying to spark the team to more emotion, or maybe make himself trade able in the eyes of fans and management.

Possibility B:

  • He’s underwhelmed with the skill he’s been put between and wants to make sure the organization’s leadership sees it for themselves.

If so, he is simply lobbying for the team to spend to the caps that will coming along down the line and is hoping to see either more talent acquired for his line, or a reshuffling of the roster that allows him to play a more offensive part.

Possibility C:

  • He’s got one or more off ice issues that are eating at him.

If this is the case, much as Ovechkin’s slump when his grandfather died, it will work itself out, eventually.

Possibility D:

  • At the ripe old age of 28 he’s having some sort of midlife crisis.

Odd as it may sound, this could be true. He’s won at the WJC, won a Stanley Cup, won Olympic Gold, won Gold at the Spengler Cup, won gold at the World Championship, was an NHL Young Star his rookie season, won MVP & All Star at WJC, the Selke Award and the King Clancy award. Realistically, what else is there for him to do in the NHL or hockey in general?

Possibility E:

  • He’s sick to death of blatant calls not being made by officials and is simply more willing to defend himself now.

At one point Joe Thornton who is a likely hall of fame inductee almost retired because of the amount of nonsense he had to endure, Jumbo Joe is a whole lot bigger than Bergeron. The current crop of NHL officials is suspect on good days, and their aren’t many of those.

Whatever the reason(s) he’s getting more familiar with the penalty box, it is slightly disturbing. At his current pace he’ll likely finish the season around 60 PIMs. That’s more than double his previous high, and not something the Bruins can afford long term in their most valuable skater.

October 1:

The Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens will get the headlines, but if you want the best game of the night, it isn’t this one. It isn’t The Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers, it is the Washington Capitals taking on the Chicago Blackhawks in Chicago, you’ve got a banner raising, the return of Russian Olympic torchbearer Alex Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, John Carlson, Mikhail Grabovski, and Brooks Laich all ready healthy and ready to go.

The star power on both sides is great, goaltending is about equal. This may be the best game of the week.

October 2:

With just three games on the docket, another easy choice. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Philadelphia Flyers both underwent huge roster turnover since last spring. One was a playoff team and may manage it again, the other needs to get into the playoffs or heads will roll. James Van Riemsdyk and Luke Schenn will faceoff against their old teams, and it least one of roster will sport a different goaltender than the last time these two teams met.

October 3:

This is an almost impossible night of coverage to choose from. The Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning always put on a good show, and this will be the first night on the ice for the Bolts new captain. The Minnesota Wild and Los Angeles Kings should be a good tilt, the jilted former champions versus the rising power looking to wash away the stain of being pushed out of the playoffs so easily. The Saint Louis Blues and Nashville Predators will square off with what could be two of the best backends in the NHL.  But the game of the night will be the San Jose Sharks and their playoff feast the Vancouver Canucks. The changes in the Canucks lineup and coaching will make the game even more compelling.

October 4:

Friday night will be a smorgasbord of NHL action. The game of the night is easily the Ottawa Senators and the Buffalo Sabres. These two division rivals will square off with both hoping to be in the top three in the new Atlantic division. With Boston and Montreal to compete with every point, every game, every shift counts and these teams know it. Ottawa was in the mix last year, but new captain Jason Spezza will want to bring the boys to the top of the standings from the starting pistol to the final horn.

October 5:

Saturday’s game of the night is easy: Original 6 action. The Boston Bruins host the Detroit Red Wings. Both the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins were laid low by the Chicago Blackhawks last June. With the Red Wings playing as an eastern conference team for the first time in a generation, both fan bases will have to work overtime to get this rivalry to something with a bit of hate in it. Kronwall and Lucic will provide devastating open ice hits, Bergeron and Datsyuk will be on display as three zone aces, Tuukka Rask and Jimmy Howard will be in the crease making their case for inclusion on their nation’s Olympic rosters for Sochi, and Zdeno Chara and Henrik Zetterberg will be captaining each ship in the first of five regular season battles.

Last season the Bruins went to the Stanley Cup finals despite an indifferent regular season. They had to fight like mad the last 20 minutes of playing time in game seven of the opening round to beat the Maple Leafs. In the second round laid the wood on the New York Rangers and beat them in five games. The Eastern Conference finals were almost a joke as the Penguins were taken to the wood shed and chastised. In the playoffs we saw two things that led to off season moves; the emergence of the young lions Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski, and Dougie Hamilton and the waning of Tyler Seguin’s star. Gone are young forward Tyler Seguin and good guys Andrew Ference and Rich Peverley. In there place will be some combination of the young lions on the blueline and future hall of fame inductee Jarome Iginla and the return on Seguin, Loui Eriksson.

The Boston Bruins are starting the season with four out of five games at home. In that span they play their two home games against new division rivals the Detroit Red Wings, and also host the Tampa Bay Lighting and Colorado Avalanche. They will take to the road to visit the new look Columbus Blue Jackets who will still be without defector Nathan Horton.

Number of Days 1-5:  11

Number of Cities: 2

Best Opponent: Detroit Red Wings

Weakest Opponent: Avalanche

Home Games: 4

Projected points: 6

The revamped forward lines will need a longer shakedown cruise than the preseason can provide. They don’t know who will be on their third line or where. At this point the still don’t have a clue who their backup goalie will be. With their solid defense and top shelf coaching they can expect to be in the  playoffs and the second round is pretty much theirs for the taking. Exactly which of the young defensemen steps up and retains a position in the lineup. Gregory Campbell and Patrice Bergeron as the most notable injuries late last year both project to be in the lineup and 100% opening night.