The Boston Bruins ended their season against the Ottawa Senators. Some, myself included believe they never should have made the playoffs. Given their lack of quality even taking a team that left them sitting on their Bettman with a fat lip at the end of every meeting in the regular season is an accomplishment. There are a couple reasons they lost, and no, the officiating in the playoffs isn’t it.

5:  Balance

The bottom three were an issue because it should really be a bottom six on a team like this. The MAN line of Moore, Nash, and Acciari was very good. Tim  Schaller was variable, Krejci was useless before he went down to injury, and Spooner was well, Ryan Spooner. The only real strength shown in the depth on the blueline, McAvoy looked as good as anyone could reasonably expect, probably better, Morrow looked like the guy who they hoped he’d be when they traded for him. Cross looked good, and I have to wonder where he’ll be playing next year.

4: Inconsistency

This team was held to less than five shots on goal more than once, including a period without a single shot on goal. They took stupid penalties, like the three delay of games over the board in less than half a period to start game six. Their goaltender had three games with a save percentage under .900.

3: Speed

The speediest players didn’t do much with their speed. The rest of the players weren’t fast enough to break through the slopfest of a neutral zone created by Guy Boucher and the Senators trap. Pastrnak was ineffective, Marchand was largely invisible, Vatrano didn’t make a splash. Colin Miller who was the fastest skater in the AHL a couple years ago was invisible even before someone tried to end is career.

2: Shooting

They barely did. They had the second fewest shots on goal per game of any team in the playoffs. They allowed the Senators the same number of shots per game as in the regular season where Ottawa beat them  each time, and finished ahead of them. You don’t consistently beat a good goalie with low shot totals, you don’t support your own goaltender with very few goals.

1: Communication

I have never seen a team with such bad communication and awareness on the ice. There were collisions between players who have been on the roster for years. There were more passes to no where than to other players. How in the world were there yet more two many men on the ice penalties? Even Bergeron and Marchand who have played together for hundreds and hundreds of games could be seen crashing into each other once below the circles, and Marchand being on the receiving end of a Bergeron blueline check. We know some of the injuries guys were playing through, maybe they were addled by pain killers, but this was not a team in sync.

Last nights Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators was an exciting affair. Seven goals, some tussles, and even bonus hockey. Some people have thrown the young defensemen under the bus already. I’m not sure that’s useful or even viable. The Senators beat the Bruins soundly and consistently all season, and they did that with the Bruins top six defensemen intact. In Game 3, they went to overtime with four regular defensemen out of the lineup. Krug was the highest scoring defenseman on the team by more than a little, and one of the top scorers in the league. Adam McQuaid who owned an on ice save percentage higher than any other defenseman on the team. Brandon Carlo who has turned in a very, very solid year playing against the best of the NHL. And Colin Miller who has spelled Krug on the powerplay, and performed solidly.

What they got Charlie McAvoy who has now played nearly 100 NHL minutes total, Tommy Cross who has played all of four total NHL games, and Joe Morrow who now has two who playoff games to his name after playing just 20 total games all year. The Bruins defense, highlighted by Morrow in this regard blocked eight shots. They only allowed one more shot than the Senators season average, and that is even taking into consideration the overtime.

Some people have blamed the last goal of the night on Tommy Cross. It is almost a logical conclusion. But if you watch closely, Cross is doing everything he can not to take a penalty, and maintained contact with Bobby Ryan all the way in. If there are two guys in the AHL who can make the shot Ryan did I don’t know who they are, and I doubt most team scouts do either. In the NHL, there maybe 15 guys who are as good at shooting the puck as Ryan. That’s it. Without taking a penalty, there isn’t anything else he could have done.

Why did the Bruins really lose the game? If you don’t believe the Senators are a better team despite the regular season record and the series lead, then there are only two options to consider. The first is that Tuukka Rask turned in his second straight game with a SV% of .875 or lower.

The other option, may just be more palatable to many of the Rask’s defenders. A casual look at one of the stats mentioned above shows an even greater issue than any of the issues with the defensemen. The truth is the forwards were not good in this game. Only two forwards had more than one shot on net.  Riley Nash and Patrice Bergeron. That is it. Stafford and Moore didn’t even have shot attempts. Over 27 minutes of ice time and not even an attempt.  The team put just twenty shots on net in a game that went into overtime. Over the regular season they had more than 32 shots on net per game. You can’t get winning results on low effort.

Just days ago I wrote a piece on Torey Krug and how he should absolutely not be exposed at the expansion draft. Today we learn he is day to day heading into the playoffs. He is not expected to play in the season finale. Of the teams defensemen, no one does anywhere near as much to generate offense for the team. His penalty kill time this year is even contributing to better play in his own zone.

While the compact Michigan State alumni is hardly likely to turn to the dark side, his absence does indeed cast Vader’s shadow on a team where scoring among defensemen is pretty rare. At this point in the season Krug is tied for 5th in scoring among defensemen with 51 points, next is Zdeno Chara who with 29 points owns the 53rd rank. None of the other blueliners even make the top 100.

A next man up approach might slide Colin Miller into slot and bump him up a pairing. He’s a great skater, he’s a solid passer, a willing shooter, and already used to the NHL. Unfortunately those attributes haven’t combined to make him a good NHL player. He has less points than the other Miller who no one confuses with an offensive dynamo and who has played less games. For all his defensive prowess, Adam McQuaid has never gotten his point production into get close enough to his jersey number to be intimidating, so he’s probably not the answer. John Michael Liles has burned 52 games in a Bruins uniform, and racked up exactly the number of goals that the front office should spend in seconds deciding if they should offer him a net contract and giving him a line of 0-11-11 6PIM -6.

Joe Morrow has apparently been written off entirely by the organization. Which is sad, but not anything fans or writers will be able to do anything about. That brings us to guys currently in the AHL, and maybe players leaving college or aging out of juniors. Given the depth of defensemen in the system, I really can’t see an outsider being brought in. Sherman is unlikely to leave Harvard early, and isn’t an offensive guy. O’Gara did start the year with some time in the spoked B, but was eventually sent down for more minutes. Alex Grant is leading all Providence Bruins in scoring, but at 28 years old, the odds he’s even strongly considered are pretty slim.

Next up is Tommy Cross. At 27, he’s probably been consigned to the ranks of permanent AHL players. He did get a recall last year. He’s 2nd on the team in scoring for defensemen, with much of it at even strength. With 12 goals on the season and his well known mental acuity, even with less speed the Colin Miller, I can see him being at least as good offensively, and easily better defensively. Having played in the NHL already, I can see him handling playoff hockey better than most.

The player most similar to Krug in offensive abilities and projection is almost certainly Matt Grzelcyk who has 11 powerplay assists, perhals the area most likely to suffer without Krug. He’s speedy, he can handle the puck well in motion or holding a position, and can pass better than most. He’s nearing the end of this first professional season and aside from his offensive prowess can inject both speed and reasonable hockey sense into the backend.

While McAvoy is undeniably talented,  even if you’ve been there before. Making the jump when you won’t have the practice time to get comfortable with how other players communicate and play, or adjust to the pace of the game, sounds like a recipe for disaster at the toughest position to play.

The best news is that just about all the guys were healthy. Adam McQuaid not only moved without restriction, he lacked the pain lines and strain fans had grown used to seeing on him. Chris Kelly looked to be not just back to preinjury form but possibly a half step faster. Dennis Seidenberg held nothing back and looked in one viewing to be back to preinjury for as well.

The pair skated together for at least one drill at Bruins training camp.

The pair skated together for at least one drill at Bruins training camp.

The good news is I think all the guys battling for a job in the NHL this year who were with the club last year, look like they came to win the job now. Brian Ferlin and Seth Griffith showed up and looked good, Jared Knight looks to have slimmed down and no longer looks like an NFL free safety, perhaps most surprisingly Simon Gagne looked not just healthy, but like he was still capable of holding down a top six position, at least with one viewing.

#54 is six foot five or so

0 #54 is six foot five or so

Perhaps the biggest positive surprise other than Gagne looking good was Matt Fraser. During one on one battle drills he was paired up against a reinvigorated Zdeno Chara and held his own both taking and receiving checks, while staying with the puck, or pressuring Chara when the Captain had the puck.

Bergeron and Julien plotting, planning and talking hockey,

Bergeron and Julien plotting, planning and talking hockey,

The bad news is who wasn’t on the ice; Greg Campbell. He was watching from rink side. Torey Krug and Riley Smith are somehow still unsigned. And at the bottom of the list was the unsurprising lackluster performance of two players; Jordan Caron and Ville Lieno. About the only positive to Leino being there was he did manage to get off a few shots from the seat of his pants or knees, which he ended on pretty regularly as everyone including Caron seemed to drop him with ease. Caron for his part looks to have lost a good deal of muscle, and was moving poorly, as in Recchi in his last three months before retirement poorly, short choppy steps and all.

#44 Showing all signs of good health.

#44 Showing all signs of good health.

One heartening bit for long term prospect watchers is that Tommy Cross looked the most quick and agile I can recall seeing him. While he’s got a whole mountain range to climb before getting a sniff at the NHL, he’s moving well enough not to be an instant liability when he hits the NHL stage.

#50 Knight and #52 Lindblad, two of the Providence Bruins competing for a Boston roster spot.

#50 Knight and #52 Lindblad, two of the Providence Bruins competing for a Boston roster spot.

The Boston Bruins defense has more questions today than it has in several years. The eternal question of “who will play the point on the powerplay” is just one of them. With the end o the Andrew Ference Era in Boston, the question of who will add speed and agility to a large and imposing rosters. It is a given that Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg have their roster spots locked in. Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid will have to work hard to lose their spots, and that’s where it gets really interesting.

Injuries, illness and matchups showed us a lot bout the three young lions last year. Torey Krug’s speed, agility, and puck handling were overshadowed only by his refusal to give an inch and his ability to contribute to the offense. Matt Bartkowski proved reliable and consistent all over the ice against good competition or bad. Dougie Hamilton showed he as capapble of playing big minutes, and showed off a better defensive game than many, myself included, had expected to see. If you go purely on played as the best barometer of what Claude Julien and the coaching staff think of them, it would seem Krug is the front runner coming into camp for a spot. His scoring only strengthens the case for him.

If you look at experience in total under Julien, Hamilton edges the others, and he’s also a first round pick who was part of the return for the Phil Kessel trade, if that matters in real hockey arithmetic. Matt Bartkowski has two important advantages, and you just can’t overlook them in the system all three play in. First and most tangible, is that Bartkowski has proved he is highly coach-able and very driven. The upswing in his positioning and skating since his first NHL appearance is the type of thing coaches and players build their careers out of. The second is his age, he may have less NHL games than Hamilton, but he looks and sounds like a veteran, and is about the same age Boychuk broke into the NHL. With Julien “the veteran factor” is every bit as important as being Russian born at draft time.

Complicating things further are not so minor considerations like half a dozen defensemen aiming for a roster spot who have a legitimate claim to being NHL ready, and money. Among Krug, Hamilton, and Bartkowski there is a cap hit difference of over a million dollars from Krug down to Bartkowski. When you factor in Tommy Cross, Chris Casto, Zach Trotman, David Warsofsky, and newly acquired 1st rounder Joe Morrow, Krug and Hamilton’s cap hits are only a few dollars off the total of any three other players.

Given his displacement in the post season, a season spent in the AHL under Bruce Cassidy would not be a surprise, and 24-27 minutes a night of consistent play would be better for his development than 12-17 a night in Boston and sitting out specific matchups. One of the other possibilities is that another defenseman gets moved either because they have been eclipsed, or for cap reasons. Chara and Seidenberg aren’t going anywhere, McQuaid’s salary isn’t prohibitive, but his injury issues might make him a candidate for movement. Johnny Boychuck is a perfect candidate for trade if the Bruins think they can be a better team without him.

Boychuck who made his name in the AHL as an offensive defensemen, hasn’t cracked 20 points in the NHL. He’s currently the Boston Bruins second highest paid defenseman, but not many would list him as the second most valuable defenseman. With this, and another year left on his contract the return he could fetch in terms of prospects and or draft picks, might just help the team fill their deficit of right wingers, as well as free up almost $3.5m this year and next. With a good playoff performance behind him, it is doubtful his value is going to be higher anytime in the foreseeable future.

If Boychuk is moved, the Bruins will be a little fleeter of foot, a bit less physical, and likely better offensively. Whoever wins the battles or the 3-7 spots, it is hard to argue they will have a bad defense.

Today’s skating drills were revealing. Some guys are more agile than they show in the course of a scrimmage. Not surprisingly the players who have done these drills in the past do them best. Ryan Spooner stood out and that was in no way news.  Several of the bigger players like O’Gara and Ferlin did quite well, and despite the questions about Cross that should have been stuffed and mounted long ago he went through drills that  look painful more smoothly than Hamilton.

I spoke with a couple players after practice, O’Gara who is headed off to Yale in the fall says his goal is to get bigger and stronger. Using the camp stats as reasonably accurate if he puts on 5-8lbs of mass and stays all four years he’ll wind up somewhere in between 205 and 217, I can’t imagine many forwards wanting to go into his corner. Had the most physical shift of the day smashing the larger and older Justin Courtnall repeatedly.

Local boy and USNDT Matt Grzelcyk will be staying local and playing for Boston University for the next few years. Bruins fans can look forward to the nearly inevitable BU/BC Beanpot games have at least once prospect on each team. The smooth skating defenseman was drafted in the 3rd round this year and is among the smaller players at camp. Watch him closely.

Jared Knight says the playoff experience in the OHL helped him develop, and that he’s focused on improving his game and going into camp focused.

The most entertaining and informative exchange of the day however was off to the side as Khoklachev and Subban worked on one end of the ice while the rest of the campers practiced rushes. Khoklachev is held out of contact for a few more weeks. Until the lacerated kidney is completely healed he can’t be a full participant in camp. Subban was in net. As Khoklachev swooped in from the blueline for shot after shot the two ratcheted up the skill level, the two found the competition increasingly humorous. At one point Khoklachev was lying on the ice laughing. The two exchanged mock exuberant celebrations after a save or score. Good to see players who might well play together for ten years making fun out of their very serious work.

Dev Camp ’12 Saturday June 30

Coach Cassidy spoke about the development of various players. Tommy Cross was praised for coachability while playing two games in Providence last year. Stressed that the camp was about developing individual players and familiarizing players with the Bruins expectations and way of doing things. Later he mentioned the Providence Bruins not only had 11 1st year pros, but fourteen concussions, the highest in the AHL last year. He’s expecting a better season this year.

The Bruins are in a decent position in the standings. They do have injuries to two key forwards and have shown little ability to replace them internally. It’s likely that Peter and Cam will want to add without subtracting again (even if that is unlikely) so I don’t expect anything huge. Here’s a look at some of the players and prospects who might attract some attention or who fans might be worried could be moved:

Negative move potential:

  • Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic, Tim Thomas. These four are the magic smoke in the machine and without them the team does nothing, and goes no where. It isn’t that there aren’t teams with the assets on paper to buy one of them it is that they have more value to the Bruins because of who they are than any even moderately insane return could provide.

Very low:

  • Tuukka Rask, Brad Marchand, Dougie Hamilton, Jared Knight, Dennis Seidenberg. Either for today and the playoff run or the future these are key pieces. None is quite irreplaceable but the return would have to be unequivocally in the Bruins favor and have an immediate and long term impact.

Low 1

  • Ryan Spooner, Alex Khoklachev, Chris Kelly, Adam McQuaid, Tyler Seguin, Andrew Ference. This group is all players the Bruins would like or very much like to keep, but who have enough value without being completely indispensable either because of depth at that position, contract status or time on ice for the team.

Low 2

  • Johnny Boychuk, Daniel Paille, Shawn Thornton, Tommy Cross. The first three have value to the Bruins, and while other teams might want them none is likely to be the center of a trade. Cross is in the end of his senior season in college and the Bruins have invested a lot in the local guy and have to be expecting some return on it next season either in Providence or with the big club.

Medium

  • David Krejci, 1st round pick this year, Jordan Caron, Justin Florek, Krejci has been moved from center to wing lately and appears to have come alive, a first round pick this year if the team plays well will be somewhere in the 20+ range so a player who could he had for another year is a reasonable return, Caron probably doesn’t fit the Bruins system despite some flashes of high potential and good hockey sense. Justin Florek is having a good senior season at Northern Michigan University, and owns more than enough potential to be a key component in a trade for a team retooling.

If the Bruins do make a move, anyone expecting a blockbuster move will be sorely disappointed. From the pieces already taken off the market by trade or new contracts there is a chance they don’t make any trades at all. If they do make a trade look for guys who are going to play second or third line roles for forwards, or 3-6 rang defensemen. I wouldn’t even be surprised to see a retread come through the door.

The arena was again well filled with fans, some dressed a tiny bit more realistically for the frigid conditions of the Ristuccia arena than others. Some of the people were the same folks who had been several days running, but there were also a lot of people who hadn’t been the last two days. Claude Julien visible with some scruff and looking like golf had a spot on the days to do list was present as was Peter Chiarelli.

While as I said before, there isn’t a ridiculous spread in talent from top to bottom, there were definitely a few players that stood out. My very top tier includes just four players, three of the defensemen but I could be easily convinced to add two of the forwards who while less well rounded or were still high end. After those six players there is a tight bunch of twelve to sixteen players who are solid but didn’t display one or two elements in the time I was there. Five years ago, and probably even four any or all of the top six players could have made the Bruins roster. This year, I highly doubt any of players at this camp crack the roster without a bit of help from the injury bug or someone suddenly demanding a trade.

From the scrimmage and shootout today:

Volden: Lights out goaltending in the shootout. He faced some truly pretty shots and got rousing cheers from the crowd.

Button: Just plain looked good. Didn’t seem to be flustered by anything.

Camara: Looked damn solid, love his work ethic and willingness to go through traffic. Think Jeremy Reich type work ethic with better wheels and hands.

O’Gara: One of the youngest players in camp, didn’t look out of place playing with some of the top players at camp.

Fallstrom: Showed a more physical presence than I’d seen from him yesterday or in past camps.

Trotman: During the scrimmage he was paired Warsofsky and got a couple really nice looks and potted a goal from the high slot.

Warsofsky: Made a neat play along the boards during an offensive zone entry. He got rubbed out along the wall, and didn’t miss a beat in spooning the pass to the slot as he slid a good ten or twelve feet on both knees. No sign of ill effcts from it. Could turn into a powerplay quarterback.

Knight: Grabbed my attention by going deep into the defensive zone and working hard at blocking shots and taking away lanes. Plays with a bit of swagger, people are either going to love him or hate him.

Spooner: He drilled Hamilton a couple times during scrimmage and special teams practice.

Hamilton: Seemed to drop back into more of a defensive role today than yesterday.

Cross: Answered any reasonable questions on his knees over the last two days with not just some of the best mobility for the bigger guys, but some of the best mobility in camp. Perhaps the thing that sticks out most even over his obvious leadership is his positioning. He appears in the right spot and shifts smoothly with it around the ice.

Khokhlachev: Was shifted to left wing from center (he plays both) in scrimmage, looked very comfortable, was again a going concern in all three zones.

Spinell: Looked comfortable at his own crease to the opponents blueline, still in college and in camp on an invite. I’m not sure where he’s sign when he graduates, but where ever it is will be getting a solid piece.

I liked the camp, and can’t say enough about the competitiveness and energy of the camp. While a few players were flagging at one point or another I didn’t get the impression anyone was mailing it in. Today’s scrimmage was much more physical than yesterdays with a few hits that were a touch more than the “light contact” you normally see.

Not so risky guesses:

  • None of the guys at camp this year make the NHL roster out of camp without multiple injuries at a given position.
  • One of the defensemen who was at camp and in the AHL at some point last year jumps the queue to be the first callup over one or more of last years call ups.
  • Two of the forwards here this year make the team in two years.
  • At least two forwards and defensemen as yet unsigned ink their entry level contracts before the start of Boston’s 2012-13 season.

 

Today was Day 4 of Bruins Development Camp. All the usual suspects were present again for some drills and some fun! Session 1 took the raw recruits through the drills they have gotten used to over the last few days. Session 2 gave the masses present a glimpse of what the future might look like, at least for some of the young men on the ice today.

Some mental notes…

Ryan Spooner: Ok, arguably, he is the Left Wing’s future binkie, but in the interest of being unbiased, he still needs to work on his back-checking. His passing is crisp, his decision making on offense is good, but still appears to be missing something on defense.

Alex Khokhlachev: I must say he has shown me something. Good hands and speed. He can move with the puck and has nice vision. Better on the back check than I first expected but still needs work, as do most of the youngsters. Appeared a little gassed at times but could have been that he’s not used to North American workouts. Had some issues with the skating drills.

Anthony Camara: Supposed tough guy and that is all I had heard about him, but he can move and likes to throw his weight around, as seen in the scrimmage. Nice shot but appears to need some work with positioning. Better on his skates than anticipated.

Dougie Hamilton: P.C. was smiling like the cat that ate the canary at the draft, and during the scrimmage we really saw why. Highlights of Hammie show him scoring, but he is great with the puck in traffic, evidenced by his weaving through 4 players making his way into the slot area from the offensive blue line. Not as powerful a shot as I first thought, but may have been holding back. Had a little trouble with positioning at one point, having to take a “penalty” resulting in a penalty shot.

Tommy Cross: first off, the knees look good. Didn’t appear to be favoring them at all. He and Button appear to be the leaders here in camp, but Cross was giving out advice to Hammie and Spinell whenever they appeared to need it. Cross and Hamilton were paired up for the whole second session and they had great chemistry. They would look real good as linemates. Cross showed good instincts and appeared to know where to be just about all the time. Not the heaviest shot but accurate as he was putting it low to the ice for rebounds.

Lars Volden: Bob Essensa appeared to be working Lars twice as hard as Goth and Hutch on Day 3, and Lars looked real good during the scrimmage. He comes way out of the crease but backs in and tracks the puck well. He’s quick down to his pads and back up to his skates again. He didn’t appear to wander away from the net much so it was difficult to assess his puck handling. Appeared to have good instincts.

I only covered a few of the prospects here as I wanted to get this out. Will cover the rest of the squad and Day 5 tonight. From the left wing’s perspective the future looks good for the hometown team. The four invites, Steven Spinell, Brett Olson, Josh Jooris, and Eric Robinson also indicate that the scouting for the B’s will show good results in the future as well.

See you after Day 5…