Since arriving in Boston Peter Chiarelli has made moves that rewrote the franchises future history, and others that merely changed the roster. Today the Boston Bruins extended their general manager for another four years. With seven seasons behind him, there is more than enough to look at to evaluate him as general manager and hockey mind.

Coaches:

The Bad:

Upon landing in Boston Chiarelli’s first verifiable move was to pill the bench bosses job. For that position he picked arguably the worst coach in Boston Bruins history. Dave Lewis came in, glued the gloves on Zdeno Chara, left him on the ice too long, and designed a defensive scheme that led to the worst GAA in the Tim Thomas era. Fortunately for Bruins fans, and likely several players this would prove to be a mistake that lasted just one season.

Power play coaching. The Boston Bruins powerplay has been a disaster for years. Not since before Matt Cooke nearly killed Marc Savard has the team had a viable powerplay. The team has shuffled several (recent) 30 goal scorers through the power play including Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton to little or no effect. It has used guys with enormous slap shots like Chara and Boychuk, and guys who zip around the offensive zone like Marchand, Kessel and Seguin. There hasn’t been any change in this area, and it reflects one of the fundamental components of Peter Chiarelli’s personality.

The Good:

Claude Julien has been one of the best coaches in the NHL for the last several seasons. He’s rehabilitated guys like Rich Peverley and Daniel Paille. He’s taken rookies like Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, and David Krejci and given them a chance to play up to their full potential while bringing them along slowly. He’s also recognized who the teams core guys are and used them to the teams best advantage. His campaigning for Patrice Bergeron’s inclusion on the 2010 Canadian Olympic team was notable, his support of Zdeno Chara for Norris candidacy and wins likewise. Further he’s show the ability to adapt as needed and make the right calls in the playoffs.

Drafting:

The Bad:

There hasn’t been much good to come out of the 2007-present drafts. Tyler Seguin failed to live up to the hype, and is now gone. While Tommy Cross’s injuries were not something anyone could predict, the rest of the 2007 draft was horribly unimpressive. Zach Hamill has all of the NHL games to date for the Bruins that year. Denis Reul played just five AHL games, Alain Goulet hasn’t escaped the ECHL for the past two years, Radim Ostrcil hasn’t played a minute in the Boston system at any level, and lastly Jordan Knackstedt departed the system almost before anyone learned who he was. Most subsequent drafts have been little better. The 2008 draft saw two NHL games in return for more than a years labor, one to Jamie Arniel and the other to Max Sauve, no one from that draft is in the system any longer.

The Good:

Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton. That’s pretty much it. Yes, I and others hold out hope that Jared Knight, Zane Gothberg, Colton Hargrove, Alexander Khokhlachev, Ryan Spooner, Rob O’Gara, Malcolm Subban and the several others will turn into legitimate NHL players, but that’s all we can do at this point. O’Gara, Hargrove, Grzelcyk, and countless others are college kids who will be a long time getting to the NHL, if ever. If you’re feeling optimistic you can count Jordan Caron in the “win” column, if not ad the 25th overall pick in the 2009 column to the other end of the ledger.

Free Agents:

The Bad:

Derek Morris counts as possibly the biggest miss of the Chiarelli era for free agents. He wasn’t a horrible Bruin, but he was not what was needed. From the same year if one must nitpick there is Drew Larman. While Josh Hennessy and Steve Begin weren’t unmitigated successes, they hardly grew legions of fans. The second tenure of Shane Hnidy.

The Good:

Torey Krug is the most recent player who has worked out, at least short term in the system. Remaining open to Jarome Iginla is another one that has to count as a win. Shawn Thornton is one the very quiet successes that no one ever talks about as a good free agent signing. The late season signing of Miroslav Satan was a master stroke. He didn’t have to be great, but he made people feel he was in being pretty good.

Trades:

The Bad:

Manny Fernandez wasn’t picked up for a bad price, but between his various injuries and Tim Thomas solidifying his hold on the starting goalies job, he was paid about $290,000 per game. Brandon Bochenski was brought in for Kris Versteeg. Versteeg would go on to be a contributor to the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup win and remain a valued NHL commodity, Bochenski would have trouble sticking to the NHL and end up in Europe. Vladimir Sobotka for David Warsofky, the Saint Louis Blues got the guy who led them in playoff scoring and hits last spring, and Warsofsky has yet to see a single NHL game.  Traded Petteri Nokelainen for Steve Montador who along with Wideman would eventually help cost the Bruins a playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Good:

Moving good guy with bad luck Chuck Kobasew for Alexander Fallstrom, Alexander Khokhlachev and Craig Weller. Kobasew was on the roster as part of a sluggish team and the Bruins would then flip Weller along with Bitz for Seidenberg and Bartkowski. Dennis Wideman and a 1st round pick were traded for immediate help, and possibly attitude in exchange for Gregory Campbell and Nathan Horton, Florida would jettison Wideman for glass trinkets, the Bruins would win the Cup with their new boys. Picking up Danile Paille for essentially nothing was one of the sneakier good moves in his tenure. Adam Mcquaid and Johnny Boychuk were picked up in similar trades.

Draws:

Phil Kessel for the picks that turned into Seguin, Knight and Hamilton. Seguin was on a cup winning squad but hardly a huge factor, Hamilton was displaced for AHL callups, Knight has yet to have a healthy season. It is hard to say Chiarelli had a choice in trading Kessel, but the direct return has yet to be better. The Tomas Kaberle trade might count as win, but the Bruins gave up a 1st round draft selection, Joe Colborne, and a pick they would eventually trade. Kaberle failed to distinguish in his tenure, was not extended, and actually hurt the already woeful Bruins powerplay arguably making their path to the Cup harder than it would have been without him.

The two biggest hallmarks of the Chiarelli era to date have been his loyalty to the people he picks, and being more comfortable with low and midlevel deals than the franchise shaking ones. Those less charitable than myself would count conducting media availability as if each word he spoke cost him a $5 deduction from his salary as one of those hallmarks, but given the mental perambulations of certain elements of the local media, it is hard to be surprised this happens. With a Cup win, and a second team that took a juggernaut to six games despite being hobbled by injuries it is hard to call his tenure anything but a success.

The NHL is enriched every year with the sagas of aging players who continue to contribute to their team, the NHL and the whole hockey community at an advanced age. But what makes those stories so heartening is the fact that they are so rare. For every Teemu Selanne there are twenty guys who didn’t make it to 30 in the NHL. For every Tim Thomas or Keith Aucoin who have played more games NHL after age thirty than before, there are two dozen guys who play their whole career without being an NHL regular. This is the time of year when for young player hope is ratcheting to an all time high as they put in the work to take a job at training camp. For others, it is the time to give up the dream.

Tim Connolly‘s most recent NHL game was in the 2011-12 season. Last year he played just 28 AHL games. The veteran center was a mainstay of the Buffalo Sabres for years during the last half of the Lindy Ruff era. Originally a New York Islander, it has been almost that long since Connolly was able to play a full season. The number 5 pick in the 1999 draft last played all 82 games in the 2002-3 season. He’s 9th in games played in his draft class, and 6th in points. Connolly is only 32, but health and the salary cap coming down for the first time in years may just have pushed him firmly to the outside.

Brenden Morrow was an iconic player for years in Dallas, last year he was traded to Pittsburgh where his offensive numbers might convince you he’d managed to turn back the clock a decade or more. Unfortunately his foot speed didn’t show up, and his leadership qualities alone haven’t been enough to help him land an NHL job yet. One of the dwindling few who played in the IHL, the former Olympian sits sixth in his draft class in points, 29 behind Sergei Samsanov. Have we seen the last of Morrow as an NHL player?

Steve Montador is one of hockey’s best known vagabonds. At 531 regular season NHL games, the undrafted blueliner has played more games than many 1st round picks. At one point his skill set was topped by a crisp pass and solid skating. Neither of those were what earned him respect in his six NHL stops. That was left to his willingness to standup for his teammates and take horrific punishment for the logo on the front of the jersey. In 2011-12 he played just 52 games on a crowded BlackHawks blueline. In 2012-13, he played exclusively in the AHL.

Roman Hamrlik What you want from a 1st overall pick is longevity, and quality play. Roman Hamrlik was taken first back in 1992, he’s played 218 more games than Sergei Gonchar who has piled up the second most NHL games. In points, as a defenseman he’s fifth overall. He’s played on both sides of the Battle of Alberta, played for the Rangers and Islanders, skated for Montreal and the Washington Capitals after starting his career as the Tampa Bay Lightning’s first ever draft pick. Age and various injuries restricted the 39 year old to just 18 games in the regular season and two post season appearances this year. As high as the heat was turned up under now former Rangers head coach John Tortorello, it is hard to say if Hamrlik got a fair shake or not.

Dan Cleary was a part of the championship days of the Detroit Red Wings, and more recently a part of the days when making the playoffs was an open question. The 13th overall pick of the 1997 draft started with the Chicago BlackHawks but has spent almost the entirety of his career a member of the Wings. 10th overall in scoring in that draft he’s 131 game short of playing his 1000th NHL game. IF he can find a two year NHL deal and play 66 games each season he’ll hit that exalted number. The Belleville Bulls alumni has been slightly healthier than usual the last two season playing all 48 regular season games this year, fourteen playoff games and 75 games the previous season. The versatile winger isn’t precisely expensive, and it i certainly possible a team who wants a playoff tested veteran will sign him.

Vinny Propal is probably the most interesting name on the UFA list. At 38 the two time Olympic medalist was the leading scorer on the Columbus Blue Jackets last season. He’s been remarkably healthy in his career, and the third round pick came up through the AHL unlike a lot of those picked ahead of him. He’s currently 8th overall in games played for the 1993 draft class. Sitting just 3 points out of fourth for the draft classes scoring, that, and the lack of a Stanley Cup championship are likely enough to keep the fires burning, and make him a viable option for a team who needs a veteran forward.

Some of these gentlemen, and their age-mates on the outside looking in will undoubtedly sign an NHL deal before too long, if they do it’ll be just another chapter in some storied careers.

This is an occasional feature that will take a look at multiple issues, each in 100 words or less.

Team USA Management  Announced:

Dan Bylsma will coach, and David Polie will be the GM. Only one of those is hope inducing. Here’s a look at potential players. Given who performed in the playoffs, are Paul Martin and Torey Krug now on the shortlist?

Naoko Funyama Is Gone:

News hit that Naoko would not be returning to Bruins broadcasts this fall. Since then everyone has checked in keeping her name a trending topic through the night, even with the NBA draft, and she’s gotten support from coworkers, other professionals, players like Tyler Seguin, and fans. Will NESN revisit the idea?

Kris Letang

 

The Penguins have reportedly offered Letang north of $7.5 million a year. Somehow he didn’t take this offer and personally get the contract certified by the NHL before the Penguins could come to their senses. Rossi takes a look at the situation. Over $7.5m would have him in the top 3 NHL defenseman, and he’s just not that good.

The Buyout Boys

Of the seven NHL players to receive compliance buyouts, two may have played their last NHL games. Steve Montador and  Ilya Bryzgalov. Montador is 33 years old, and didn’t play a single game for the Blackhawks last season after stops in five other NHL cites. Bryzgalov has melted down completely in goal since landing in Philadelphia going from two straight years of .920%+ to just 900sv% last year.

Alfie Not Giving Up The Throne

So with Alfredsson coming back another year, the old guys club of the NHL is waiting on on Selanne, and Jagr to give NHL coaches someone they don’t feel the urge to cut their meat for.

The Bruins have been one of the much rumored most interested and or best bidding in the suitors for Bobby Ryan since word came out that he was disgusted by being scapegoated for the last two or three seasons. It is hard to look at his career and not imagine what a boon he could be any team. Four full NHL seasons, four 30+ goal seasons. Big body. Willing hitter. Accurate shooter. Willing to drop the gloves.

But for a team like the Boston Bruins who have a top five offense, he isn’t necessary. Particularly not if it involves mortgaging the future. The next two drafts will hold some quality defensemen the Bruins should not cost themselves opportunities at. First round picks should be off the table in any trade discussions. If you ask seven serious Bruins observers how many of the defensive prospects in the Bruins system have a strong chance at playing top 3 minutes for the Bruins, the list will be quite short. The list that everyone agrees on might not exist at all.

If we put discussion of Hamilton and Krug on the shelf my list  it isn’t very long and two of them are college players. Either of them could wash out, likely both are three to four years away. Looking at the AHL and ECHL players some have been called up and looked not anywhere near ready, others have been in the system several years and never gotten called up. Then there are the guys fresh out of the very short college seasons. No few people would say these players will need two years of good health and lots of playing time just to be conditioned enough to play a major role in the NHL.

Going back to Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton the two have one thing in common. If you guessed size, please go find an eye doctor, and do have someone else drive you. Both are known best for their offensive contributions. If there’s one thing we know about Bruins fans, its that they expect defensemen to have a large component of defense in their game. Corvo, Kaberle (who is and was better than Corvo), Wideman, Montador and others have all been ridden out of town on a rail for their defensive deficiencies. Corvo’s vilification won’t be the last time, and it is unlikely either Krug or Hamilton would escape a similar fate if they don’t have at least an average defensive presence.

If the Bruins were to trade for Bobby Ryan they would be better served to move an extra forward, or even two in place of a first round pick in either of the next two drafts. Zdeno Chara has six seasons left on his contract, that means the window for him to mentor and develop high ceiling defensive prospects is pretty small. If someone like Seth Jones or one of the other well regarded defensive prospects is available, they need to be able to take him.

One of the most common proposals I’ve seen for Ryan is: Krejci, a 1st and a prospect. Switching out two seconds, or an additional forward prospect for that first round pick makes much more sense. It will give the forwards left in the system more ice to develop, and securing a player like Ryan means you can consider their roster spot filled for a good number of years.

It feels like it’s been an eternity since the last NHL head coach was fired. Never mind we had a glut of them them back a few weeks ago that should have left the blood thirstiest fans sated for the entire season, apparently the appetite is back and out do destroy cities like the blob. Joel Quenville who not long ago served as the flag officer on the good ship  Stanley Cup Champion is under fire. Six game losing streaks will do that. I’m of two minds before I dig into the numbers and research this as I write this post.

  1. The team isn’t actually that deep to begin with. Yes you’ve got Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp up front, and Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook as rearguards. But after that? Essentially the team has two first lines, two fourth lines, and not a great deal after the top two defensemen.
  2. Even good coaches do get stale. This would be a fairly short amount of time for that to happen, but even Bowman and Cherry were booted

While a lot of people are (justifiably) critical of the +/- stat, it does have it’s uses. In particular the road/home split and my favorite parsing; how it compares to the teams goal differential. Coming into today’s action the Chicago BlackHawks have a goal differential of +8. Since the ice time of defensemen is most important among skaters in keeping pucks out of the net here are the total +/- numbers and what they really mean for the Chicago defense.

  • Brent Seabrook +10. By my shaky math that’s 125% of the teams overall goal differential. With 21 points in 50 games he’s third among the teams defenders in points. At .42 points per game he’s producing steadily, he’s not likely to match his best season, but should handily clear his worst.
  • Duncan Keith +8. The math on that’s easy even for me. With 38% of his points coming on the powerplay, and hence not affecting the +/- a very good number in comparison to the team. He’s running at .56points per game which is better than a lot of forwards, like Seabrook this is about an average year offensively.
  • Niklas Hjalmarsson +5 Not bad, by comparison Jake Gardiner of the Toronto Maple Leafs who plays about the same number of minutes on a team with a similar goal differential is a +9 on a +11 team. Gardiner gets powerplay time but their even strength points are nearly identical.
  • Steve Montador +4. He’s where it starts to get interesting. Unlike any of the defenders above him, he plays no short handed time. This means he’s unlikely to be scored upon in that vulnerable shift after a penalty kill expires and tired defenders get off the ice, and lines shakeout to hopefully surge offensively. 43% of his points come on powerplay. What stands out among the admittedly ambiguous real time stats is not his turnovers, but his takeaways. Just 6 of them. Only O’Donnell of the top six who has played 14 games less has less of them and is in single digits in this category.
  • Sean O’Donnell -5. This is a number that doesn’t bear thinking about. Admittedly O’Donnell has never been an offensive force, and isn’t shirking in that duty by past comparison. After Montador he plays the least PK time of any of the BlackHawks top six defensemen.
  • Nick Leddy -10. Eep. Given that he’s third in ice time, where as O’Donnell and Montador are fifth and sixth, this is a bit bad. Worse, he’s 2nd in scoring for defensemen in Chicago.

All of that is interesting, but he big ah ha moment of perusing the numbers of the defensemen is the split between home and road. Only Seabrook is a even on the road, everyone else is a negative. Keith goes from +13 at home to -5 on the road, Leddy is even at home and goes to -10 on the road, the rest of the defense tells a similar tale. This probably means that when Quenville can get the matchup that allows him to cover up or the faults of various defenders he’s doing a pretty solid job.

The biggest question on the backend of any team isn’t the defense. That’s the second biggest, but the single largest contributing factor is the goaltending. The single biggest indicator of how well the goalie plays is the save percentage. Some goal keepers for comparison, 24th in Sv% Curtis Sanford 28gp .915 sv% team 30th place, 10th in Sv% Jimmy Howard 44gp .924 sv% team in 1st. Both of these goalies play in the same division as the BlackHawks. Ray Emery 38th in Sv% .901 Sv%, Corey Crawford 41st in Sv% .900 sv%.

The team may be running through a bad spell, and the split between road and home defense isn’t pretty. The six game losing streak is alarming, but it probably won’t surprise you to know five of those games were on the road. The home game was against the Nashville Predators who are a tough enough team that a loss to them while not good is acceptable. If appears the two biggest problems with the Blackhawks are bad goaltending, and a defense that has issues getting the puck out of the defensive zone. Getting the puck out does require assistance from the forwards, and there have been seven different rookie forwards on the roster at some point in the season. Issue number one though is that the team has two passable backup goaltenders and no clear number one. A goalie who can make one or two more saves gives the skaters time to pitch in and shovel the puck out of the zone.

Tonight the Boston Bruins throwdown with the Ottawa Senators. Just days ago Tim Thomas, Tyler Seguin and Zdeno Chara faced Erik Karlsson, Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza and Ottawa Captain Daniel Alfredsson in the All Star game and skills competition. Tonight the goals count for more than bragging rights, the win will either provide separation or leave the division rivals in a points tie at the top of the Northeast division.

Tonight is the third of six games between the clubs this season. Thus far the magic number is “5′. The Bruins have scored five goals in each of the first two games. The Senators have scored a total of five goals in those two games. Boston Will be without Nathan Horton who continues to recover from his second concussion in a year, this suffered on an unpenalized hit against the Flyers. The Senators are missing Jesse Winchester and Peter Regin, both out indefinitely since December 21st.

Horton’s concussion, has fueled trade speculation with desired club acquisitions including the New York Islanders Kyle Okposo and the Phoenix Coyotes Ray Whitney. Zach Parise who can of course be had for a pair of 3rd year AHL nobody’s is also on the radar. Any of the three is as likely as the other at this point, but one name I think bears thinking about is one that was linked to the Bruins for three or four straight years. The biggest holdup on Carter escaping the host city for next years All Star extravaganza isn’t his desire to get out, unhappiness with the city or even his play. Players like Steve Montador, Joffery Lupul, Kris Versteeg and other frequent travelers not to mention every goalie who isn’t in the top five or six prove most organizations believe they can fix any problems with a player. Magical coaching is a belief held as commonly as not stepping on the logo on the locker room floors, even if no one is willing to admit it.

I think the tide has turned on the forever contracts. The ten years left on his contract will carry him past his 37th birthday. While he’s probably worth the slightly more than five million dollar cap hit he’s on the books for, it is hard to imagine dedicating that much cap space, regardless of actual salary to a 34 or 35 year old s fraught with tension for any general manager.  A cap hit as high as Carter’s would make him the highest paid forward in a lot of cities, while unquestionably talented it remains to be seen if he has the ability to be the type of impact player generally associated with being the top paid player at a position.

Later this week, the Bruins will host the Carolina Hurricanes including much rumored blueline reinforcement Gleason has just signed a contract that should have Boychuk and Corvo’s agents laughing themselves silly. The Hurricanes sit 15th in the east and 27th overall, but have taken the previous meetings this season with the Bruins. Saturday the Pittsburgh Penguins skate in for a matinee. The potentially Crosbyfied Penguins will arrive in Boston with days rest off of a back to back home and home set against the Toronto Maple Leafs where Brian Burke (@LeafsBB20) will probably kvetch about Don Cherry some more.

Across the month of February the Bruins play 13 games in 28 days including three back to backs sets. Five of this months games are against teams not currently in playoff position.  Six games are against teams currently in the top five in their conference including two games against the Senators, games against the Penguins and Rangers, and a tilt with the Predators.

How broken can they be, they just won the Stanley Cup? Very. They are two wins below the next worst team in their division, and one bare point off the league basement. They aren’t scoring goals, they aren’t hitting. They aren’t blocking shots, and surprise surprise they aren’t winning. The last possible route has two lanes for fixing it although the first one often leads to the second.

Fire everyone below ownership. Get rid of everyone from Neely down to the third assistant stick boy. Many would say that if they didn’t prepare a team ready to compete after winning everything they clearly can’t be trusted with long-term stewardship of one of the NHL’s oldest teams. Coaches gone. Trainers gone. General manager and assistants gone. Jeremy Jacobs has stressed in recent years how much he and his son love the team. Is it time for them to show it by giving it a shot in the arm?

Getting rid of Julien is probably pretty easy. Coaches take the fall all the time. The Bruins powerplay is awful and has been for years. He’s blamed for driving the NHL October 2011 first star out of town for being overly demanding and stifling of young players. He’s characterized as overly defensive and inflexible. He can go and take the little dogs with him.

Chiarelli is even easier. With a history of bad trades and worse free agent signings he’s literally cost the team millions of wasted salary dollars. No one needs to be reminded he strengthened a division rival by sending them the current AHL points leader Joe Colborne, an additional first round and second pick in a disastrous trade for Kaberle who was clearly the wrong choice to fix the powerplay. Then there are trades like the Bochenski for Versteeg “deal”, the acquisition of Patrick Eaves for Aaron Ward, only to buy out eaves before the ink was dry.

Thirty goal scorer Michael Ryder came to Boston and his goal scoring touch was on life support the whole time. Manny Fernandez was an aging old goalie with knee and back problems brought in to “solidify” the goaltending position. In two seasons Fernandez played in all of 32 games. The 2008-09 season saw him ride Tim Thomas’s coattails to a share of the Jennings award despite being 25th in Sv% and 20th in GAA. Some other names that will make Bruins fans cringe that we have only Peter to thank for: Schaefer, Begin, Allen, Montador, Lashoff and more.

Worse in the eyes of many who would advocate just blowing everything up he’s failed to build a farm system that can regularly feed players to the parent club. The AHL affiliate is bad enough that it’s playoff record going into last seasons final weeks was worse than the parent clubs and has had a revolving door for coaches. Then there is the fact he’s failed repeatedly to find fixes for the powerplay.

Traveling the second option is possibly harder but almost certainly closer to necessary. When a coach not known for throwing players under the bus publicly does so in an unprompted manner, they may have just punched their ticket out of town. Given that questions of commitment have followed one of them since being drafted, and injuries have followed the other a change of scenery might just do the trick. This seasons powerplay bandaid Joe Corvo is third in PPTOI, but has not out performed Andrew Ference who is playing less than one third the minutes on the man advantage.  Former AHL defenseman of the year Johnny Boychuk has clearly stagnated with his points per game tailing off over his three seasons in Boston. The numbers don’t lie. When you look at the backup goaltender, not only does Tuukka Rask get uninspired play in front of him, his performance in the playoffs is noticeably worse than his regular season numbers across his career.

Something has to give. When you go from first to worst without significant changes in on ice personnel, the problem needs to be addressed. Nuking the team or off ice leaders, trades to fill needs, or simply a shakeup it is past time to live up to fan expectations of a creditable title defense. The season after a championship win shouldn’t be a sedate victory lap it should be a tour de force that shows why the team is the top food chain.

The best thing that can be said about the Boston Bruins as a team this week is that they got less bad as the week went on. Certain individuals shined and, some were invisible.

The Columbus Day game against the Avalanche showed the worst of the team. Tuukka Rask is the only reason they were in it at all. Even Seguin and Marchand looked to have come back to earth a little. While the Avs are off to a very good start, I don’t think I’ve seen a single creditable prediction they would make the playoffs and are simply rolling with one of those early season runs while better teams are finishing their shakedown cruise. Non existent puck protection and an unending audition for zombie parts in the next Night of the Living Dead remake made it amazing they only lost 1-0.

When it was time to throw down with the Hurricanes they were against collectively sluggish. Marchand and fellow sophomore Jeff Skinner introduced themselves with some just short of penalty festivities.  Marchand and Seguin would both score goals in the third. It looked suspiciously like Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic actually remembered what the two hundred dollar twig in their hands was for as each managed three shots on goal and Horton got an assist on Seguins goal.  Tim Thomas was the goalie left out to dry this night as Jiri “The Big Picture” Tlusty, and Anthony “Six Minute Man” Stewart would be handed pucks by sluggish defenders to tuck into the net.

Against the Chicago Blackhawks things were slightly better. Calling it a sixty minute effort would be more than a stretch, but there were times when you remembered this was almost the entire Stanley Cup winning roster. Lucic, Horton, and Boychuck all had their best games of the season. Boychuck was key on Horton’s goal skating hard behind Crawford’s net and sending a hard, flat pass to Horton for a quick shot over the goal line. Unfortunately the sustained good efforts didn’t really start until the second period, and were undermined by a boarding penalty by Bergeron, and a Tony Romo like pass to the opposition by Andrew Ference.  Bergeron’s boarding penalty was just dumb, he and the Blackhawk were alone and he didn’t even try reaching around or going in from the side. Chris Kelly got the teams first shorthanded goal of the season off a Ference feed. With a little more effort, like say any time in the first period, the Bruins could have done in a BlackHawks team that includes former Bruins Steve Montador and Sean O’Donnell on it’s blueline in regulation. Instead, they needed to go to the skills competition. Thomas closed the door to three pretty damned good Chicago players, Seguin got the only goal needed for the Bruins.

Top Players:

Brad Marchand, Tyler Seguin, Tuukka Rask, Tim Thomas all looked good.

The Western Conference has quite a few storylines to keep the NHL’s scribes busy this year, most on the ice, some off. Ownership issues reign supreme in Coyote territory, the Blues and Stars are likely to change hands soon, and several major players are entering their walk year.

Northwest Division:

The northwest is pretty clearly divided between the haves and have-nots, of all the western divisions I expect my predictions here to hold up best.

Calgary Flames. As long as Iginla is healthy this team always has a shot. If they somehow managed to get some scoring depth the sky is the limit. They’ll likely finish second in the division.

Edmonton Oilers, still a so young the squeak. They will win about any game that their opponent allows to become a track meet and shootout, and lose any time they have their perilously thin backend exposed.

Vancouver Canucks. While not as talented as last season, two of the additions bring a higher level of mental toughness than was seen on the ice from this team last year. Marco Sturm and Byron Bitz probably don’t have a shot at the Conn-Smythe next June, but they can sure as hell support whoever of their teams leading lights gets closest to it. They should win the division again, for what it means.

Minnesota Wild. Unless one or more of their prospects turns out to be a stud this season they appear to have shuffled the deck chairs and done little else this off seasons. The trades weren’t bad but did they address the problems and not create other problems just as pressing? A bubble team that could as it stands finish anywhere between 7 and 11.

Colorado Avalanche. Fans in Denver and surrounding area should take advantage of the opportunity to watch Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog play without the pressure of making the playoffs. This team drafted well, but the current defense and likely penalty kill will drag this team into the lottery abyss.

Central Division:

This is honestly the  most interesting division in the west to forecast.  You can make a reasonable argument for any of the five teams to win the division. Unfortunately for the teams in the division this isn’t because any has an overwhelming strength at all positions.

Chicago BlackHawks, like the Wild, they did a great deal of deckchair shuffling to questionable effect. Having had the opportunity to watch Steve Montador and Sean O’Donnell, not to mention Jamal Mayers live and over the course of several season I’m not sure how they push this team over the top or even nearer it. On the other hand the cup hangover should be long over for the talented young core who are still hungry. Probably in the playoffs.

St Louis Blues What has been a combination frat party and hospital ward for the past two or three years could turn into an uptempo hard checking playoff team if it can tone down either of those aspects. Talented yes, focused, sometimes, healthy, in spurts.  If you really want to know where the team will finish, pull out your d30 and roll it a few times that should be just as accurate as anything anyone else can tell you.

Nashville Predators. Same Preds different year. Great defense, top notch goaltending and a giant question mark about where the goals will come from. This year there is the added question of which if any of Suter, Weber and Rinne will return next season. Fun times in Music City.  Almost certainly a playoff team, and possibly the division winner.

Columbus Blue Jackets. What an interesting off season. They imported a sniper. They imported a powerplay quarterback, and they (in theory) lowered their overhead. If things gel, and certain new defensemen can avoid multiple suspensions they too have the weapons to make the post season.

Detroit Red Wings, will this be the victory lap for Lidstrom? Who knows. The odds of this team making the playoffs come down to a flip of the coin. They have some huge talents, huge liabilities and huge unknowns.

Pacific Divsion

Far and away the strongest division in the conference it honestly wouldn’t surprise me to see the conference finals come down to two teams in the division.

Phoenix Coyotes. With the departure of Bryzgalov in the off season they are the weakest link. Not a playoff team, and possibly a lottery team.

Dallas Stars. With last seasons renaissance in goal, a mostly stable roster, a team that learned to play without a superstar forward, and the infusion of a seemingly rejuvenated 30+ goal scorer they might be the sleeper in the conference to make it to the post season. I’d be surprised if they didn’t flip positions with the Coyotes and make it in to the playoffs over them.

Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks had their most important player move happen when Jonas Hiller came off the injured reserve. With a full season under his belt and having managed to be a plus player in the post season after 75 games in the red Cam Fowler should be an even more important piece of the roster. Devante Smith-Pelly may end up in the Calder conversation. Oh yeah, they’ve got these guys named Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry, and Ryan Getzlaf up front who are supposed to be pretty good too (if anyone can confirm this leave a comment) to play with Vishnovsky. All this will likely lead them to third in the division.

LA Kings. If this team can gel as a unit and put up more goals they are likely to be finish around the 110 point mark.

San Jose Sharks. This is one of those teams that seams to own the regular season without even a signed offer sheet on the playoffs. They have a very good chance of winning the division if they can keep their goaltenders from having to be any better than average.