The Bruins off ice leadership is pretty consistent. They do the same things over and over, and for their part the Bruins fans just take it with little complaint. Chiarelli and Neely dangle a new, young, talented player in front of the fans, then punting that player or players away just as soon as enough tickets are sold or they fail to play like a fifth year veteran by the end of their sixth shift.

This year the dangled players are unusually varied. We have almost seen Seth Griffith, sorta seen Ryan Spooner, there was the hope of seeing Brian Ferlin and David Warsofsky, but hey fans have gotten more of Jordan Caron, something that was on the top of the off season wishlist of fans everywhere.  If you get the feeling you’ve seen this dog and pony show before, you have. It’s all been done before.

A few years back Boston Bruins were treated to a never ending rotation of two promising young defensemen. The tale of two Matt’s, who were largely treated like doormats. We’d see Matt Hunwick, and Matt Lashoff, and they’d be in and out of the lineup, rarely getting more than a handful of games in a row. Which isn’t exactly how you develop young defensemen. Hunwick eventually went on to lead the Colorado Avalanche in time on ice one season before moving on to the New York Rangers. Lashoff was so broken he washed out of the league with less than 40 NHL games after leaving the Boston Bruins and his career is sputtering in Europe. Fans of course got to watch both get flailed by leadership, hope was lost.

Then there was Phil Kessel and eventually Tyler Seguin, and it was hit me baby one more time. Kessel lasted a couple years while they had no one else. Seguin lasted until they had to pay him. This year it was the David Pastrnak show and if you’re imagining Peter Chiarelli and his brain trust doing a rousing rendition of Oops I Did It Again, you are not alone.

Peter-BS

So far this season, the question is where do broken hearts go, because Carl Soderberg should not be leading the team in scoring, and whatever the statistics page says Adam McQuaid is not the most offensively gifted defenseman in the Boston system. The team is unbalanced with little talent playing in their natural position on the right side, making the left side easier to isolate and shut down. Instead of moving out excess centers and left wings to bring in a viable NHL right wing, the team has decided to sign a guy who can’t stay healthy, hasn’t played a game in over year, and hasn’t been healthy in the post season in almost five years.

This isn’t the first time they’ve take someone washed up and put them in the lineup over a promising young player. This time it is Simon Gagne over Jared Knight, Seth Griffith and the rest of the prospect, in the past it was Shane Hnidy over Steve Kampfer. Only time will tell what happens to this roster, the young and old players being shuffled in and out of the lineup, and of course the management doing it. I would have to recommend against holding ones breath until something good happens.

For more read here.

This is probably the most asked, least answered question in Boston sports. The answer is complex, and involves more than a few moving pieces.

Health:

The Bruins have certainly had less than average amounts of injuries, and unfortunately the two most prominent injuries have been to their top scorer, and their most important skater. Brad Marchand’s speed, ability to agitate, and his zero delay shot release are game changing. He is at this point one of the two or three best forwards in the division. Patrice Bergeron is the teams most important player. Not only is he the most skilled faceoff man in the NHL, he’s stunningly reliable, the number of non injury bad games he’s had in his career can be counted without exhausting one’s fingers, possibly without reaching a second hand. When both are out, the team is missing speed, scoring, puck control, leadership, and winning attitude. Chris Kelly’s  loss was crucial to the galloping inefficiency and creeping malaise, but that’s is something that has its real impact in the next section.

Depth:

When the Bruins won the Cup, they rolled four solid line, and had a defensive unit they could rely on. They were very much a Top 9 team with a fourth line capable of contributing at a level that many teams struggled to get their third line to impact the game at. This year they are very, very much a Top 6 – Bottom 6 team, and they have a similar issue with their bottom six to the year after Chicago won their Cup. Some pieces that are the same, but not having career years all at once, and some players who are either playing way under their expected level or who were out for an extended period.

When Chris Kelly went down, the already anemic third line flatlined. Chris Bourque, Jay Pandolfo, Jordan Caron, Ryan Spooner, Kaspars Daugavins, and Jamie Tardiff all trooped in and out of the line. Part of the problem is that when Peverley slid over to center he started trying to do too much in a year where he was already struggling. Part of it the problem is that the most promising players weren’t given legitimate opportunities. And part of the problem is just how many moving parts have been involved, especially as the lines were frequently shuffled trying to get players like Sequin, Lucic, Horton, and Krejci going as well.

Defensively, the team rushed Dougie Hamilton to the NHL before he was ready, this is a management failure, but speaks to a dearth of passable defenseman available in the off season. Hamilton certainly hasn’t been a disaster, but he’s experienced the peaks and valley’s of a rookie, and despite his size has been overpowered and beaten one on one for pucks. The question of if this would have been less serious in full season with more games and travel versus the current high compression is unanswerable, but either way another year of physical growth would have ameliorated some of the valleys in his play and freed up other defensemen from keeping an eye on him in addition to playing their own game. With McQuaid’s injury, Aaron Johnson was pulled into the lineup. While he’s possibly more skilled and a better puck handler than Mcquaid, he doesn’t have the raw aggression of McQuaid, and that means opposing players don’t slow up and look for support going to his corner.

Scoring:

When your top paid forward, David Krejci, has the same number of goals as a guy getting six minutes less of even strength time on ice a night and plays most games on the fourth line you have a genuine problem. There’s no doubt you have an issue. Nine goals isn’t a bad total for the season thus far but either of them is in the top four on the team.

Milan Lucic has gotten the most attention for scoring decline, and deserves it. He doesn’t look like himself most nights. But this dip in his scoring isn’t nearly alarming as Johnny Boychuk year over year decline since he spent his first full season in the NHL. In thirty nine games he has one more point than Shawn Thornton who has played less than half as many minutes. Part of the issue is that he’s just not shooting the puck much, Boychuck has just 64 shots to date, Thornton in the same number of games, and significantly less shifts has 46.

And yes, the powerplay is unenviable at just under 15%, but they haven’t been good at that in years.

Coaching:

Claude Julien has earned the right to a very, very long leash in his coaching tenure. But his fetish or veterans over rookies or young players is again strangling the teams creativity, and energy. Jay Pandalfo’s heart and professionalism are unquestionable. The rest of his body is not really fit for NHL action any more; and yet 18 times he has gotten the call to play over a younger, fitter, more skilled player who likely figures into the teams long term future. In those 18 games he is scoreless, based on his career total of 226 points in 899 NHL games, the expectations certainly were not high. Ryan Spooner, Jordan Caron, or Jamie Tardiff could just as easily have filled those games, and likely out performed him, Spooner and Tardiff were having very respectable years in the AHL at the time of their recall. For that matter when Chris Bourque was sent down his 19 game stint produced points, just four of them, but combined with his speed there was at least a going concern each shift for opposing defense to deal with.

And even on the veteran front, just as Corvo and Wideman and Ryder deserved to be scratched in favor of other players in the past, so too have several players this season. For all that he’s slowly starting to rebound in his own end, Ference could have used a breather, Boychuck likewise, and with so many healthy bodies circling the ice and the cap space the entire Krejci, Lucic, Horton line could and probably should have been sent to the pressbox more than once this season as there were more than a few nights all three were on the ice but not in the game.

Management:

One of the biggest issues with this team is complacency. This starts at the top. Players who know training camp is jut a formality and they can go on with the drudgery of the regular season don’t star the season in right state o mind. It isn’t just about having nothing to win with a good effort in training camp, and the off season leading to it, it is that the having nothing to lose in either time period.

This goes way beyond just this season. Part of it is a drafting tendency. The team has too many nice guys, and maybe two intermittent fire eaters. Regardless of what you think about his politics, you only had to watch one period of Tim Thomas playing to know he was one thousand percent in the game. It didn’t matter if it was policing his own crease, smashing his stick on a shot even he had no chance on, or skating out to check an opponent taking liberties with one of his team mates, he was all in from warmup until the game was in the books.

Who can you look at on the team and say that about? Which of the prospects likely to hit the roster in the next year or two does that describe? Does that describe Redden or Jagr? The same answer applies to all those questions; No and no one. This has been true for years, the last palyer to say anything not in the mold of generic athlete mutterings, or whatever the front office was saying was Steve Kampfer, and he was deported about as fast as the Brain Trust could find a dance partner.

Where’s this teams Wayne Simmonds or David Backes? Apparently the front office is either blind to that need of the teams, or doesn’t want it.

The Long View

When you look at some of the other teams to win the cup recently and what they did in their next year, most of it isn’t pretty. Duncan Keith had a bad year after the Cup win, by comparison Chara’s average to slightly above year is pretty nice.  Zetterberg played two more games, and scored 20 less points they year after winning the Cup, Lucic has 12 games left to the season and is only 9 points off of last years total.  Marc-Andre Fluery’s save percentage took a tumble  year over year, oddly enough he started off the year strong, and had a stumble with a train wreck of a month towards this time of year  and then bounced back in his post-Cup year. Even Nicklas Lidstrom had a down year in the post-Cup year.

With all the travel that the Bruins saw for the Eastern Conference finals schlepping back and forth from far north to far south in the US, not to mention a seven game series started without their best forward, then added to the cross continental 3 time zone shift four times and seven games and losing a top winger its not surprising they are having issues even this long later. Detroit, Chicago, and Pittsburgh all had much shorter trips between home and away. Chicago played Philly, Pittsburgh and Detroit played each other both years and none of those cities are all that far apart. The year after their Cup wins, Detroit finished with less points, Chicago finished not just with less points but made the playoffs on the last day.  As disconcerting as what we’re seeing is, it isn’t unprecedented or even as bad as it could be.

Trickle Down Weariness

The injury front presents a couple less apparent problems. Nathan Horton and Rich Peverley both went out it put bigger than apparent holes in the team. Horton’s physicality and size on a a team that is pretty small up front can’t be be overlooked. Of the top nine forwards left, when he went out only Lucic was over 200lbs. Krejci, Marchand, (Hamill), Seguin are all under 190lbs. Taking away that added ability to not just throw big hits, but withstand them and maintain control of the puck is huge. Add in his willingness to drop the gloves and pound the snot out of someone and you’ve got a second problem. The elephant in the room however is his powerplay production. Despite the slow start and the time missed, he’s still third on the team in powerplay goals.

Rich Peverley’s injury created it’s own fault lines and widened the ones left by the loss of Horton. Rich Peverley’s speed has always put him in the top tier of the NHL’s forwards. Unlike a lot of the company he keeps there he has not just straight line speed but an ability to go side to side and make sudden stops and starts that is very nearly unparallelled. Taking that speed and agility out means you’re left with Marchand and Seguin in the top nine with game changing speed, both of whom are smaller than Peverley and one of whom isn’t nearly as physical. When you drill into the stats and look at who does what on the team you find he’s still second in powerplay assists despite almost a month out. What’s worse is where he plays his special teams time. Most of his powerplay time is done at the point allowing one or more defensemen to rest, and he has averaged nearly two minutes a game of shorthanded time on ice.  That extra time has either gone to the already burdened Bergeron or Kelly, or slipped to Krejci and Marchand.

Caution Contents Easily Damaged

As if the physical injuries weren’t bad enough, the teams psyche has gotten fragile enough to make Rick Dipietro look like the model for endurance. The game against the Florida Panthers they put in their best effort in weeks right up until the Panthers second goal went in. Then  the Panthers could have been replaced by some the Lincoln Stars of the USHL, and still lost the game. I have no idea where the team that saw Nathan Horton get nearly decapitated at center ice and then come back to curb stomp the opposition went. Michael Ryder, Kaberle and Recchi moving on are insufficient reason for this many guys who have been there and done that to fall apart at the first sign of things not going their way.

Sluggish Metrics

The powerplay that had been in the top third of the league before the slump is now 14th. The penalty kill that was top five is now ninth. In comparison to the playoffs last year their hitting is down, as are their blocked shots. Worse what they are doing in front of the net is creating problems for the the goalies. Instead of committing to blocking a shot or letting the goalie see it, skaters are routinely setting screens. The puck will go in off their body or between two or more Bruins skaters on the way to the net. The shot shirking is bad enough it reminds me of various thankfully departed defensemen from years past.

Open Armed Welcome

When opposing players get to the crease, behind the net in that god awful trapezoid, or park themselves in the low slot no one does anything. It isn’t just Corvo who looks at opponents and wonders how long they have to think about getting a good draft at The Greatest Bar before whoever it is goes away. The softest most contact aversive forward in the league can now stand anywhere he likes and know for certain no one will drop him on his backside. Skate into the crease after the whistle? No problem. I’m honestly surprise the guys haven’t put a visitors sports bottle on the net for them.

Front Of Leadership

I think the trade deadline sent a very clear message to the team:

Front Office Message

We’ve got our hands over our eyes.

The best piece they traded away was Steve Kampfer, and got less in return. What the brought in were pieces they clearly don’t see any real use for. None of the three has a contract that runs past the end of the season. None of the three addresses a need at the time or now. Rolston does not have Horton’s physicality. Rolston does not have Peverley’s speed. Rolston also does not have their scoring ability.  Zanon and Mottau haven’t eased Chara’s penalty kill minutes. Zanon and Mottau haven’t taken up any of the scoring slack on a very low scoring defense. Zanon and Mottau aren’t injecting any real speed, physicality or poise into the lineup. When you come right down to it these guys fit the team the arrived too and not the team that is supposed to be here.

 

Jeff Carter and the LA Kings

Carter finally got his first two goals as a member of Orange County’s best dressed gang. To the surprise of no one Mike Richards figured in on both goals. Equally surprising was that the goals came against a division rival who like the Kings are in the thick of the race for the second season. One of the best reasons for the trade deadline to stay when it is remains integrating players into the lineup in a way that lets them be effective. In the case of cross continent trades time zone adjustment also plays a role. Carter getting his groove back is a great thing for his and Kings fans, and not so good for their opponents.

Steve Kampfer In Motion

For those wondering why it is a promising young defensemen was shuffled out of Boston, the answer is simple. He lost confidence. I can’t blame him. In fact the blame for that lies squarely on Cam Neely, Peter Chiarelli, and Claude Julien. Last year about this time with Kampfer cycling in and out as injuries took more experienced players out of the line up the Bruins Brass decided to sign a player who hadn’t played a single NHL in over a year. Adding depth isn’t a bad thing, no one could legitimately criticize adding a player familiar with the team and coach. But to add a player with that long a layoff, with a well known knee issue on top of limited mobility and then insert them into the lineup for less than four minutes of play over someone who worked their tail off all season, and who matched up much better in mobility with an opponent? That sends entirely the wrong message. Add in the struggles of Corvo and other defensemen and he got into just ten games before being shipped off?

Good luck in Minnesota Steve!

NHL All Star Events

One of the things that I think was missing from this years All Star Weekend was the the Young Stars game. I can understand not wanting a second game of shinny  on the weekend but given the importance of the NHL Entry draft. How about adding a prospect game. If not another top prospect game, how about putting on a game for the players on NHL Scouting Central’s Watch List? The energy level would be high, and fans would get a predraft introduction to some of the players who could be picked outside the top ten.  Better still, coaches, scouts, general managers could get a look at these players and take them from “off the radar” to “important mid round selection”. Another possibility is a USHL vs CHL  All Star game.

Some teams you just can’t tell how the moves will work out. In some cases it is because the player is inexperienced, or going from a really good team to a bottom feeder and the adjust might period might be rocky. In some cases it is a question of the player fitting the system. In still others the chemistry of players left behind can be damaged.

The Vancouver Canucks took a big, big gamble on deadline day. Not only did they give up skill and experience. Zach Kassians physicality is a huge element to add to the team. Marc Andre Grangnani is also a skilled defenseman I’m pretty high on. But Cody Hodgson is not just skilled, he’s canny. He’s displayed the ability to be a game changer. Alexander Sultzer is a more defensive minded defenseman than Gragnani as well. The relative skill difference doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the age and attitude differences. Sultzer is 27 and broke into the NHL in 2008-9, Kassian just turned 21, and Gragnani is 24. While Sultzer didn’t play a huge role for the Canucks, I’m curious as to how the Sedins, Salo, Bieksa and the other older players are going to deal with being told, implicitly or explicitly, that they need to take their emotional cues from guys that young who have never even seen a conference final in Gragnani’s case or a single NHL playoff game in Kassian’s.

Even more you have to wonder if, should the team make it that far, if Kassian will have enough skill to be impacting on the ice or if he’ll just be setting things up for other players to take lumps for him. We saw last year in their series against the Bruins and in the earlier rounds that the bulk of this roster is not able to play ferociously and focused at the same time. I’m not sure Bitz and Kassian can impart that trick to the rest of the roster and shaking up a teams identity is rarely a good thing unless it is changed entirely from the top down.

The Winnipeg Jets didn’t do much. This is probably for the best given some of the prices we saw and that were reported. They did pick up defensemen Grant Clitsome (@GClitsome) off waivers and then shipped out Johnny Oduya to Chicago for two draft picks. They are still a bubble team and entered Monday’s play in 8th place, but given how desperate Claude Noel was for offensive help, its curious that there wasn’t even a token trade. A team that’s been as erratic as this one has could have used the vote of confidence implied by bringing in a little help, as it is they essentially stood still. This might rally the dressing room or deflate it.

The Boston Bruins gambled and gambled big. Their biggest question marks are offensive production and forward depth. Adding Greg Zanon, Brian Rolston and Mike Mottau does little to address that. With Rich Peverley out with a knee injury, Nathan Horton not even skating yet with his second concussion in a year, and now Boychuk out they added no one who has displayed an offensive gift of late. Mike Mattau hasn’t scored a regular season NHL goal since March 13th 2010. Since breaking into the NHL Greg Zanon has never had more than four goals in his seven seasons of NHL play. Brian Rolston is not the player some Bruins fans remember, not only has his shooting percentage dropped every year since 2004, he only hasn’t broken 40 points since the 07-08.

Tampa Bay Lightning had an interesting two or three weeks heading up to the deadline.  Steve Downie was packed off, as was Dominic Moore, Aulie, Lee, a second round pick and a 1st round pick were the major fruits of the trades. Neither Aulie nor Lee have managed to be impacting players to date in their careers. The two picks are from teams who will almost certainly be in the playoffs meaning they first can’t be any higher than 17th and the 2nd will at best be 47th. Given the deficiencies of the defense and goaltending this season that seems an odd way to address them even if you lay the blame at the feet of injuries to key players and father time catching up with Roloson.

The Minnesota Wild rolled the dice by trying to add by substitution. Bringing in Steve Kampfer for Greg Zanon is a clear attempt to get younger and better offensively. Erik Christensen coming over from the New York Rangers earlier in the year was also a clear attempt to add offense. Gilbert for Shultz was again a swap up in offense. The problem with all of these trades is that the total goal difference is probably on the order of 7-8 goals a year. That is unlikely to be what separates a tenth place finish from a sixth or third place finish. If they had ten more goals to date this season it would move them from 29th in goals for to 27th, hardly inspiring. These may prove to be helpful moves, but you have to wonder how long even “The State of Hockey” will put up with a mediocre team that can’t score and doesn’t often stand up for itself.

New York Islanders traded Brian Rolston and Mike Mottau for Yannick Riendeau and Marc Cantin of the Boston Bruins organization. Rolston is 39 with a shot that has concussed two different goalies. Mottau is a defenseman who won the Hobey Backer in 2000.Both have Massachusetts ties as Mottau is a Quincy native, and Rolston wore the spoked B for a couple years.

No Rick Nash trade as I suspected.

Most interesting trade of the day is Toronto Maple Leafs swiping Carter Ashton from the  Tampa Bay Lightning  for defenseman Keith Aulie. Aulie was part of the Phanuef deal and well regarded until the Toronto organization soured very quickly on him Carter Ashton was a or possibly the top offensive prospect of the Tampa Bay Lightning playing in the AHL.

The Chicago BlackHawks upgraded their defense by shipping out John Scott for a New York Rangers 5th round pick. They brought in Johnny Oduya from the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for a 2nd and 3rd round pick .

The Minnesota Wild have shipped off Greg Zanon to Boston for Steve Kampfer (@SteveKampfer47)  a younger defenseman with a good shot and good stride. Zanon is a UFA July 1, Kampfer has one more year left on his deal.

Buffalo Sabres also shipped out Paul Gaustad and a 4th round pick to the Nashville Predators for a 1st round pick. Very interesting. looks like the Predators are going for the biggest prize.

Zack Kassian of the Sabres also shipped to Vancouver for Cody Hodgson. (This one may be bigger, conflicting reports.)

 

 

Sources TSN, NHL.Com, Sportsnet Canada, and anyone retweeted on twitter.

 

The Boston Bruins are broken. They may not be as badly off as the Columbus Blue Jackets or The Montreal Canadiens but like those teams they need someone to reach under the hood and switch out a few parts. The Bruins problems come under three main categories. None of the categories is all that deep, but they are all enough to damage the Bruins system and momentum.

Below peak performance:

The two players this is most true of are notable here simply for what they are capable of put haven’t done this season. The first is Nathan Horton. Unfortunately as we’ve seen with other concussed players there is no magic pep talk you can give to make the recovery go faster. How long it takes to recover both physically and mentally varies widely based in part on how severe the injury was, how it was suffered and the mental and physical health of the player. Before Tom Sestito hit that put Horton out we had started to see him climbing back into the top of the form that made him and Lucic such a scary combination to deal with. As of now it is unknown when Horton will play again which unfortunately waters down the Kelly line as well.

Johnny Boychuk is the other player failing to thrive. In his rookie season he played fifty-one games. As a rookie he averaged a shade over seventeen and a half minutes a night and pulled down 15 points or .29 points per game. This season, while playing as much even strength as he did total that year, he’s totaled nine points in 49 games .18 PPG which puts him on pace for a total of 13 should he play every game the rest of the season. That represents a 30% swing in productivity. Worse, he’s making the same poor choices he did as a rookie. One of those is dumping the puck into the offensive zone on an offside instead of retreating to the neutral zone and retaining control of the puck, he can be counted on to give up control of the puck.

Reversion to normal:

Benoit Pouliot had a couple magical weeks that made you see why he was drafted so high. It was fun to watch. You could see why teams keep hoping they have the magical coaching to turn him into a legitimate top six forward and consistent threat. Unfortunately it doesn’t appear that’s happened. Despite half of his eight goals being game winners, and a couple of them just plain pretty, and a better shooting percentage than last year, Pouliot is on pace for less points this year than last. Despite half a minutes more ice time, a better offensive team than last years and a  strong two months span, he’s playing here about like he did everywhere else.

Joe Corvo is the other player who is depending on your point of view either returning to form now or still playing the way he always has. Defensively he absolutely is worse than Kaberle. He turns the puck over at least twice a game regular as a metronome regardless of what the real time stats say. He’s aggressive enough in the defensive zone in any category that doesn’t count attempting to force bad outlet passes. His body and stick don’t do much to move the puck out of danger areas, nor does he attack the opposition attempting to pry the puck loose or force them to go around him. His shot is impressive when he uncorks it, I just don’t see the total package justifying playing time.

Unclear roles:

With the Pouliot experiment, and the issues with Horton, Corvo and Boychuk other players have been forced into roles that are clear as mud. For Jordan Caron and Zach Hamill, the constant in and out of the lineup, or trips up and down the roster can’t have helped them adjust. During one two week span Hamill for example played fourth line center, first line left wing, second line right wing and bounced through all three positions on the third line. Caron who broke camp with the team was flipped in and out of the lineup for Pouliot a number of times when arguably he was the better player but the distinction was clearly a very fine one. To date, Caron has played as many games in the AHL as the NHL, and spent just nearly as many in the pressbox. One can’t help but wonder how much further along these two would be if they played consistently.

Less noticeably, but just as perplexing is Steve Kampfer’s for the most part non-play. He did injure himself early in the season but was skating with no limitations long ago. With the inconsistent play of Corvo and Boychuk (among others) it seems odd it would take a suspension to Ference for him to get into action again. While neither has been exactly impressive offensively, in half the ice time and spotty play Kampfers points per game is slightly higher than Boychuks. In a lineup with Shawn Thornton, Adam Mcquaid, Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic and several others it’d be hard to put either Kampfer or Corvo into list of most intimidating players, Kampfer is more likely to throw a good hit, and turns the puck over less. He may or may not be as offensively gifted but he’s clearly more active and more aggressive defensively, more importantly he shows his hunger to be on the ice every night when he laces the skates up.

None of the Bruins problems are insurmountable. Equally true none of them will fix themselves. You can’t expect to win consistently with two thirds of your defense playing erratically, and while trying to use a marginal third line player as a key component on the powerplay. That is not how this team is built, it is not how they win. No further proof is needed than a look at their record of the last ten games: 4-5-1. Three of those regulation losses have come to the basement dwelling Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes and the Ovechkin-less bubble team Capitals.

A staple of the Boston Bruins, perhaps even more than the “Big Bad Bruins” image, across the last several generations has been the quality of it’s defense. Park, Orr, Bourque and now Chara have anchored the blueline in particular and the franchise at large for far longer than I can remember. The supporting cast has included some high quality players who have gone onto success in other uniforms like Hal Gill who was key to the Penguins winning a Cup over the Red Wings and current Assistant General Manager and Head of Player Development Don Sweeney. It’s also included a number of players who had very short careers, none worth naming.

Most frustrating to some is the number of men who have been what can be politely termed “enigmas” and more accurately called players with erratic work ethic and highly varied attention spans. The Bruins roster currently contains three defensemen who defy observers the ability to easily quantify them. Over the course of their careers they have been good, bad and indifferent in no predicable pattern. Two of the three were part of the Bruins cup run last spring and were at apogee. The third was acquired this before the start of the season to fill the roster spot vacated by Tomas Kaberle.

First up is Joe Corvo. When Kaberle was not renewed, it was not entirely unexpected. Who his replacement turned out to be was. During his tenure here the most positive general assessment of him was that he didn’t turn the puck over nearly as often as people feared. I’ll go further and say he looked average defensively. Given his reputation as a soft, offensively minded puck mover that’s a compliment. Corvo, who was acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes who signed and have since traded Kaberle has been more effective offensively, but much, much worse defensively. His passes to the opponents have been every bit as accurate as the ones to his teammates and almost as frequent. Worse, despite the Bruins powerplay being noticeably more effective than the one he was employed on last year for the Hurricanes, he’s on pace for less points.  Given that the Bruins spent a fourth round pick on him, I guess they got what they paid for him. At least he’s an effective fighter.

Johnny Boychuk is in his third full season in with the Boston Bruins. Having passed the 200 game mark that has long been the standard for learning how to play in the NHL, it is safe to say he is what he is. On top of his more than two hundred regular season and playoff NHL games he had an extended career in the AHL where he piled up 373 games and won AHL defenseman of the year in 2009. The problem with the soon to be 28 year old is that he has regressed defensively. Offensively he’s likely to post his best NHL numbers this year, assuming Julien doesn’t bench him and he stays healthy. He’s considered an offensive defenseman by most and some will call him a two way defenseman. The problem is that he’s not displayed any particular gift offensively, or defensively. This season despite being part of the leagues number one offense he’s ranked 115th for defensemen in points. By comparison, Andrew Ference who is a defensive defenseman first and plays fewer minutes is ranked 57th in points for defensemen. His ill advised offensive pinches and turnovers have cost the Bruins on more than one occasion.

The most worrisome of the treacherous trio is Dennis Seidenberg. Last year he was the breakout star of the Bruins. Thomas had a resurgence, Marchand was a close second but the German defenseman was the heirloom sword cleaving offensive rushes with unseemly ease. In the playoffs he ratcheted his play up still further. While the media (justifiably) focused on Tim Thomas, if there was an award for defensive excellence it would rightfully have his name on it. But that’s not been typical of Seidenberg in his career. Drafted in 2001 he spent most of the next season in the Flyers lineup, regressed to the AHL the next year, was jettisoned to the Coyotes and spent most of his NHL time a marginal depth defenseman. The Bruins are his fifth team, and he’s played more than 75 NHL games just once since being drafted. Injuries have played a part in his journeyman career, as have time with franchises on extremely limited budgets. But one has to ask which is the real product, the guy we saw in the playoffs last spring? Or the one who this season is getting caught out of position with dismaying regularity. All players have a peak they hit and then quickly or slowly edge away from. Is this fatigue? It it his defense partner? Or are the three wrist injuries,  injuries to both knees, concussion and broken leg taking their toll?

There is just over a month before the trade deadline. With the goaltenders covering up many mistakes for these defensemen Peter Chiarelli and Cam Neely may just look to tweak their defense sooner rather than later. Both Boychuk and Corvo are unrestricted free agents this summer. Many would move one or both of them between now and the deadline rather than lose them to free agency over the summer or accept pennies on the dollar for trades at the draft, assuming its possible to do so then for either. Perhaps it’s just fatigue and a day or two off allowing Steve Kampfer, David Warsofvsky or Kevin Miller a few reps at the NHL level is the balm for what ails them. Whatever the solution is if it isn’t employed soon the Bruins who sit just one point above the Ottawa Senators heading into today’s action could find themselves looking up at someone in the standings for the first time in a long time.

What time for these two teams to meet. It will realistically tell us nothing about either team, but should be a greatly entertaining game anyway. The Bruins will be without Zdeno Chara, and likely Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille as well. That’s three big parts of the penalty kill, 25 minutes or so of top shelf defensive work, some speed, so physicality and a whole lot of veteran savvy.

In their place we’ll likely see Steve Kampfer on defense. The compactly built, smooth skating and offensively minded young defensemen has seen just five games of action this season. It’s likely he be eased into things, and will not end up with too much penalty kill time. Last year against the Kings Kampfer played over twenty three minutes in a game which the Bruins were shutout. A good estimate for his ice time is about 12-14 minutes.

Jordan Caron will likely return to the Merlot Line with Shawn Thornton. Caron who has been integrated into the penalty kill unit played a very solid 10 minutes in each of his last two games. With Campbell likely down checked it’s a toss up as whether he or emergency call up Zach Hamill will take the faceoffs. Hamill drafted as a center has played wing this season in Providence and in each of his recalls to Boston this season.

Overshadowing the mild chaos in Boston, the Kings are looking to find their way. Yesterday the Kings fired Terry Murray and appointed John Stevens interim head coach. Big ticket summer pickup Mike Richards is injured and not expected back too soon. Drew Doughty has been something significantly less than the perennial Norris Trophy candidate many expect him to be. Having an extended contract dispute that ran into camp, and then an early injury haven’t helped his season. The slick skated defensemen has more than struggled offensively, he currently sits 79th in scoring among NHL defensemen. The Kings sit 21st on the powerplay, and the goals for is actually worse at 30th. The lone building block keeping them out of lottery position is the play of Jonathan Quick. Their goaltender has been lights out, even if he doesn’t win the Vezina this year if the Kings make it to the playoffs the Hart should have his name etched in.