Oh what an off season. The surprise firing of Brian Burke, the lack of contract for P.K. Subban which will no doubt fuel the “Subban to Boston” rumor mill, and Chris Bourque son of Hall of Famer Ray Bourque coming home to Boston.
Buffalo: This is Ryan Millers last change to prove his Vezina winning season wasn’t an aberration. Twenty five or twenty six wins out of thirty to thirty games would shut up all his critics. The rest of the team still has to help by doing little things like scoring goals and defending each other on a consistent basis, which will be harder without pivot Derek Roy, but Hodgson and Grigorenko are very capable of filling that hole.
Toronto: With Burke out, and Nonis in, every player and member of the coaching staff should consider this an extended audition. Goaltending is still a big question. Playing coherently as a team and not as a collection of individuals is still a complete unknown to this team. Getting it together will be a monumental, but hardly impossible task. They remain, as they have for over a decade, a work in progress.
Montreal: Last season was pretty much the perfect storm of a season. Everything that could go wrong did, sometimes twice. Injuries, coaching chaos, front office shenanigans, a divided locker room, and all under the benevolent eye of the Montreal hockey media. The good news for Habs fans is it would be nearly impossible to be that bad, that injured, that messed up and that chaotic two seasons in a row. American Galchenyuk and Armstrong of Saskatchewan bring new blood and loads of potential help to the team.
Ottawa: The Senators voted themselves into the playoffs last year and someone rewrote the definition of best defenseman so Karlsson could win, but last year they got in with a lot of help from Buffalo and Montreal who both filled their pants more often than they filled the net. The team itself likely isn’t worse than last year, but they will be playing against better competition.
Boston: While some area scribes think the whole season comes down to Rask for the Bruins, its not that simple. The Bruins have three defensemen they can rely on: Chara, Seidenberg, and Ference, and then bunches and bunches of questions. McQuaid has been steady when healthy, Boychuk is up and down, and the rest of the platoon aiming for the 4-7 slots all have big, big question marks. Warsovsky is not a gifted skater and by comparison even David Krejci is a hulking behemoth. Hamilton hasn’t played a single professional game, and was just a part of the Canadian meltdown at World Juniors. Aaron Johnson is now his sixth NHL stop (assuming he plays in the NHL here) at age 29, and has only crossed 50 games twice. Those are the best bets for those slots but anything can happen.
Top Dogs: Boston and Buffalo duke it out until the end, both Khudobin and Rask are capable of playing red hot for weeks, and the guys behind them are itching for them to fail.
When the Boston Bruins drafted the younger brother of the Montreal Canadien’s P.K. Subban it created a tiny bit of consternation among fans of the spoked-B. First their was the question of why the team needed yet another goalie. Even with the question of how long Tukka Rask would continue to wear the black and gold left out, to some it was a curious move.
Worse, he was P.K.’s brother. For some that was unforgiveable. The elder Subban is not only a Hab, he’s a diver, a bit of a pest and worse aHab. Some fans will never get over it.
The question for Malcolm’s Militia is: What does he have to do to be playing in Boston this year?
The shortest answer for that is: A Lot.
The long version:
Currently the Boston Bruins have Tukka Rask and Anton Khudobin signed to NHL deals for this season. Rask is the presumed starter, but Khudobin looked very solid in camp last fall against NHL players. Both are signed only through the end of the season, and together they represent 100% of the teams NHL experienced goaltenders. Niklas Svedberg has put up solid numbers in Europe, and his numbers last season for Brynäs were eye popping in the playoffs. He’s currently signed to a two year deal and has the professional experience some of the younger players lack.
Michael Hutchinson is on the last year of his entry level deal and unlike Svedberg, has played in North America pros. In less games he also put up better numbers than Khudobin in Providence last season. One third of a goal better in GAA and almost 1/1oth better sV%. That’s four goaltenders signed with professional experience. Adam Morrison was also added to the mix, he’s spent his CHL time playing for some not especially good clubs and got into a pro game in Providence last spring.
Five goalies, two Boston roster sports. Then there’s Malcolm. No professional experience of any sort. Injured for part of last season. I’ve seen one or two scouting reports pointing out a weakness that would get eaten alive if uncorrected at the NHL level.
It is entirely possible for him to come into camp and do very well. Possibly even be the best goalie in camp. That still might not be enough to get him the NHL contract he doesn’t yet have. More than one member of the Bruins management stressed during interviews at Development Camp that goalies take time to develop, need to go through a process, and that pushing them a long quickly is undesirable.
The last decade of NHL history is awash in goalies who got to the NHL young, had success and flamed out. One is still playing in Columbus. Others have dropped out of the NHL into the AHL or total obscurity. It happens more with younger goalie than older ones. It happens often enough that most people don’t expect to see goalies under 21 playing in the NHL at all, and some put the arrival date even later.
But that is only half of the non talent based issue. The other half is that as cautious as the Bruins front office and coaching staff are, there is no way they let themselves go into a season where from the goal line out they still have all but two of their Stanley Cup winning team, and have any less NHL experience than they can possibly manage. Even with Rask and Khudobin as what most will expect to be 1 and 2, that is still less than 100 regular season NHL starts combined. It would be a bit much to ask of either one to start their first season as a number one goaltender and mentor someone not much younger at the same time. And unless a trade could be made for either Rask or Khudobin if one is pushed aside, the Bruins would end up giving up one of them for free. It is unlikely Rask would last a whole half hour on the waiver wire, and Khudobin might last 45 minutes.
It is not impossible that Malcolm Subban plays in Boston in the regular season this year, it is not however very likely.
Two of the NHL’s best known goalies signed new deals today. Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings. and Tuukka Rask of Boston Bruins.
The reigning Stanley Cup and Conn-Smyth winner arguably took a home town discount. His deal is reported right at $58 million for ten years. The deal will put his cap hit as the seventh highest for goaltenders in the NHL. Ahead of him from top to bottom are Rinne, Lundqvist, Ward, Miller, Backstrom, and Kiprusoff. Of all these men only Rinne has appeared in the top 7 in sv% for each of the last two seasons.
Tuukka Rask’s deal is a curious one. One year at $3.5million. Under the current CBA that would leave him an RFA after next season. With the pending boardroom show down between the NHLPA and the NHL owners the landscape just over the event horizon could be completely different. Rask has spent his NHL career sharing the crease with Tim Thomas. This year he is in many eyes the rightful heir. With the limited to non-existent NHL experience of those behind him like Khudobin, Hutchinson, and Svedberg. With the number and quality of goaltenders in the system Rask should not be resting easy.
The most asked, least answered question in regards to the Boston Bruins moves in the last four months has to be: Why do we need another goalie? The answer to that may just be that the Bruins suits lack confidence in the twenty-five year old Finn.
Why would they lack confidence in what the constellation of Boston media luminaries line up in his camp describe in terms that make one wonder if Rask might not be the perfect goaltender? Well, three reasons. First is the question of health. A twenty something who has two seasons ended by injury in row does not speak to long term health. The knee issue was the warning shot. The groin hit center of mass.
Second in performance. The first year of his expiring contract was his best. He played 45 games. He had sub 2.00 goals against average. With five to ten more games his .931 save percentage might have earned him a Vezina. It was a solid season he stepped up when Thomas was injured and did a more than presentable job. The next season? Not so much. Yes he was outplayed by Thomas. That isn’t the problem. His save percentage dropped drastically. His GAA shot up. Last season, his save percentage rebounded slightly, but he still only managed a record of 11 -8-3. Worst, is his playoff numbers. In the playoffs his career sv% is two or three notches below his regular season numbers.
Last and most telling is his confidence is indisputably not what it once was. When you watch him in games he plays far deeper in the crease, often standing with his backside thrust over the goal line. When he’s interviewed he’s very, very quiet without the sorta quips that made him a media darling when he first landed. Most of all when things go poorly, where’s the rage? When he had that monumental moment of rage in Providence that ended in thrown milk crates, and equipment strewn everywhere he had confidence. You can’t getthat upset if you don’t believe you’ve been wronged (and he probably was) you have to believe your judgement and knowledge are superior to the other sides. He did. Tukka Rask had the same breed of transcendent, coolly confident swagger you see from Patrice Bergeron and other elite athletes from time to time. It’s gone.
That confidence is gone. Like Tiger Woods, he’s just not as effective after losing his brio. As with Woods, or other players who have suffered a setback, we don’t know if Rask will ever get that natural braggadocio back. Even aside from the health concerns, this is huge.
The chances that a goalie was signed in the Spring, Adam Morrison, another was added just a week or two ago in Svedberg, and then the drafting of Malcolm (@SubbZero30) Subban, and now the development camp invitation to Parker Milner of Boston College might not be aimed at a 38 year old who had one year on his contract exists. It not only exists, it is staring everyone in the face who can see past the end of their nose. Rask is unsigned at this point and I don’t see the Bruins blinking first. The goalie market shrank when the Penguins acquired and extended Vokoun. Bobrovsky being shipped to Columbus didn’t expand the market. It got smaller again when Pavelec was signed.
Unlike Price or Pavelec Tuukka Rask has never spent even one full season as the designated number one guy. The most regular season games he’s played is 45, and that same season accounts for more than half his career minutes played. Cory Schnieder is worth more money, he’s gotten an increased workload each season and responded well. In fact his numbers are better than Rask’s. It would be foolish for Rask and his camp to take much longer in getting him signed.
Recently some interesting and oh-so-timely news came out of one of the Boston newsies regarding one of the Bruins goalies possibly being traded. While there was certainly a reason behind that article, I’m not sure it was a reasonable writeup.
If you look at the way goalies are developed and handled across the NHL, both now and over the last decade or so there is an absolutely explicit path to stability in the crease. One older veteran goaltender, one young goaltender. The Montreal Canadiens tried going with two youngsters in Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak and abandoned the model pretty quickly. The Washington Capitals spent a couple seasons with Varlemov, Neuvirth and Holtby, and quickly jettisoned a youngster for a veteran.
The Saint Louis Blues had great stability with the veteran Elliot and the young Halak this season. The Minnesota Wild, health aside, have enjoyed stability in the crease with their goaltending duo. Jimmy Howard in Detroit has been nurtured in his development by a series of elder statesman. It’s pretty simple, two veterans can work, like in New Jersey, an older and younger goalie can work, but no one ever relies on two young goalies.
So when we look at the Boston Bruins goaltending assortment, we see a pretty clear mix in the system We have the elder statesman, who has been there and done that, and is still able to do so; Tim Thomas. We have a young, and goaltender who can play well in the regular season in a limited role but hasn’t ever played more than 60 games or performed well in the playoffs; Tuukka Rask. Then there’s Anton Khudobin, only a handful of NHL games to his name, just one professional playoff appearance to his name, and ten months older than the player immediately ahead of him on the depth chart.
After that things get murkier. Lars Volden and Zane Gothberg will both turn 20 this year, and both are college boys. It is unlikely either will be playing anywhere professionally in the next year or two and three years is a more likely break in point. Michael Hutchinson made some impressive strides in limited duties for the Providence Bruins. Next up is Adam Couchraine who’s entry level contract expired on July 1 and has not managed to claim much playing time in the AHL or even the one NHL callup.
Adam Morrison and NiklasSvedberg have both been signed this season. Morrison bad his pro debut for the Providence Bruins this spring, and Svedberg has some Euro experience but neither is much closer to the NHL than Gothberg and Volden. A further spanner in the mix is Karel St. Laurent who played in 21 games for the Reading Royals and four for the Providence Bruins in his first year pro last season.
So, the question to ask yourself is: If you’re an NHL club in win now mode, where do you put your trust? Do you break the trend that has been successful for teams and go with a 20-22 year old and one or two guys in their middle twenties who haven’t established themselves as winning playoff goaltenders? Another option would be bringing in one or more free agents. Of course any new player in the system, free agent or promotion especially in goal, the most important position in the sport, will have a shakedown period and the margin between a division win and deep playoff run, and having team breakup day in the middle of April isn’t as wide as it used to be.
Report out of Europe indicate another addition to the goalie stable. The Bruins who signed WHL standout AdamMorrison have added another talent to the equation. Now before we dive into who might or might not be traded Niklas Svedberg does have some pretty outstanding numbers in the playoffs, and more than respectable numbers in the regular season, but has never played a single game in North America. According to Elite Prospects he also appears to have another year on his contract.
Also of note is Svedberg’s reported stats. Listed at six-two and one-seventy-six he’s both taller and thinner than Krejci. With height and weight identical to the Buffalo Sabres Ryan Miller, it doesn’t mean he can’t succeed or even thrive in the NHL environment, simply that injuries are likely on a frame without much in the way of extra muscle or insulation.
Svedberg seen here in white, is an interesting addition for the Boston Bruins who have prospects, Michael Hutchinson, Lars Volden, Zane Gothberg (@ZanoInsano_29), RFA to be Adam Couchraine, the previously mentioned Morrison, in addition to starter Tim Thomas, backup Tuukka Rask, and Anton Khudobin. It’s hard to argue that Khudobin is not NHL ready after a second solid season’s numbers behind a poor team, or that Hutchinson is not progressing nicely when he finished tied for third in sv% in the AHL in his second professional season.
It is unquestionably for the best that depth is added, and that the depth be of high quality. After two (and counting?) Vezina seasons from Thomas, and a legendary Stanley Cup run that saw him become the first American goaltender to win the Conn-Smyth trophy, it’s unlikely any goaltender not playing at an elite level will survive the not so tender mercies of Bruins fans and media.
With speculation about Tim Thomas potentially being traded, and his age, added to the questions of Rask’s health and contract (RFA) we could see a seeming embarrassment of riches disappear in a single afternoon or two. One things for certain, if the Boston Bruins are going to have playoff success in the post-Thomas Era, they will need goaltending that doesn’t lose them games.
Most years in order to win a championship in the NHL you need to have a goalie play above average and contribute to the win. That isn’t the same as giving a team the chance to win, or simply not costing the team a win. There have been exceptions to this, namely belonging to the Red Wings teams of the last two or three cups.
16: Brayden Holtby. With only 21 NHL games to his credit, he’s got to be the best defense on a team who’s effort has been highly uneven all year. Realistically he’s got almost no pressure on him considering he’s third on the teams depth chart. (Alternates for the Capitals would be Neuvirth or possibly Vokoun)
15: Corey Crawford: He’s not had an impressive season, no goalie likely to start this post season had a worse save percentage this off season. Keeping that in mind, last year as a rookie he stepped up and improved both his save percentage and goals against average in the playoffs.(BlackHawks alternate Emery)
14: Scott Clemmensen: His next NHL playoff game will be his second. He does have the advantage of familiarity with his first round opponent. (Alternates for the Panthers Theodore or maybe Markstrom)
13: Marc-Andre Fleury: The flower has wilted in his last two playoff appearances with sub .900 save percentages. If he hadn’t been to the promised land he’d be lower. Even the year he was part of the Cup win, he gave up more goals than any other goalie. (Alternate for the Penguins is Johnson)
12: Ilya Bryzgalov: Not a playoff goalie thus far in his career. His last two post season have had worse numbers than the regular season. (Alternate for the Flyers Bobrovsky)
11: Anti Niemi: Yes he’s been there and done that, but not with this team. Further his post season numbers have dipped in comparison to the regular season in each post season appearance. (Alternate for the Sharks Greiss)
10: Jimmy Howard: Gamer. One of those guys who’s numbers improve in the post season. (Alternates for Red Wings Conklin, Macdonald)
9: Roberto Luongo: Despite the loss in the finals last year, he still had a better save percentage than the previous two winning goaltenders. (Alternate for the Canucks Schnieder)
8: Martin Brodeur: Been there, done that three times but the last trip to the post season was double plus ungood. (Alternate for the Devils Hedberg)
7: Craig Anderson: One playoff series one save percentage of .933 on a team that only got into the playoffs because he could scramble. (Alternate for the Senators Bishop)
6: Pekka Rinne: Not great playoff numbers, and an off season but one of the best pure talents in the league. (Alternate for the Predators Lindback)
5: Henrik Lundquist: Whatever he’s done in the regular season over his career has been nearly undone by an aggressively mediocre playoff performance, but that’s bound to change right? (Alternate for the Rangers Biron)
4: Mike Smith: With a little more experience he might break the top three, on the other hand holding the eventual Stanley Cup champions to two goals in your first 120 minutes of NHL playoff experience isn’t a bad baptism by fire. Not a bad regular season this year either. (Alternate for the Coyotes Labarbera)
3: Jonathan Quick: Career year behind a team playing confidently, and ready to go far. (Alternate for the Kings Bernier.)
2: Brian Elliott & Jaroslav Halak: Either one is having a high end year, Halak has ripped the heart out of opponents as a duo, there’s not a better pairing this year in the NHL. (Alternate for the Blues would be whoever doesn’t start.)
1: Tim Thomas: Reigning Conn-Smyth winner, reigning Vezina trophy winner, defending Stanley Cup champion, he’s been there and done that recently. Looked sharp of late and has elevated his numbers every post season in the last three seasons. (Alternates fort he Bruins possibly Khudobin, Rask, Hutchinson….)
It’s that time of year, when anyone who hasn’t managed to completely abandon social responsibility goes into hibernation for several hours a couple times a week. The NHL playoffs are here.
1: New York Rangers vs 8: Ottawa Senators
The Rangers have the advantages in goaltending, in playoff experience, penalty kill and in team toughness. That’s not to say the Senators are pushovers, but the Rangers had 10 more fighting majors than the Senators. The Senators own a noticeably better powerplay, a more powerful offense overall, and better leadership. Age is roughly the same with the Senators have a larger spread between their players ages.
On paper the Rangers should win this series handily. Unfortunately we don’t know how healthy Lundquist is (again) and the Senators won the regular season series against the “superior team”.
2: Boston Bruins vs 7: Washington Capitals
Can you say goalie issues? I knew that you could! The Boston Bruins still have a healthy Tim Thomas and that’s a damned spiffy thing to have. Unfortunately between the two teams there are two goalies who have never played an NHL playoff game (Khudobin, Holtby), one goalie ineligible to play at all (Turco), and count ‘em three goalies currently injured (Rask, Vokoun, Neuvirth) which makes for exciting times for the coaches. For the Capitals who were likely to find themselves out matched in goal anyways, it makes it worse that their likely starter Brayden Holtby has just 21 NHL games (14-4-3) to his name, and none of them playoff games and only seven of them this season.
The Capitals won the season series against the Bruins, on the other hand three of those games came during that ice defiling slump they were in. The bad news for the Bruins who have since resurrected their team identity is that the Capitals have Backstrom back. On paper I thin almost anyone has to give this series to the Bruins, but the Capitals won’t make it easy.
3: Florida Panthers vs 6: New Jersey Devils
These two teams are both making their return to the second season. The Sons of Sunrise as an organization haven’t been in the playoffs in forever, but Brian Campbell and Kris Versteeg lifted the Stanley Cup together, Samuelsson, Sturm, Bergenheim, Kopecky, Madden, and Jovonovski bring in another 500 or so games of NHL playoff experience as well. The Devils have an odd mix of experience and new blood, Broduer has been there and done that. but almost no one else has seen even the conference finals. Most haven’t made it out of the first round. Ilya Kovalchuk who should be on the Hart Trophy short list has only played in one playoff game in which his team won. Zach Parise hasn’t seen the second round of the playoffs since his second year in the league, and he wasn’t expected to be a cornerstone of the team then. Adam Henrique is of course a rookie, and even though he probably deserves the Calder Trophy, he hasn’t played even one professional playoff game and none since the Memorial Cup run a few years back.
The goals for department favors New Jersey slightly, the goals against is a dead heat. The penalty kill is a walkoff for the Devils, but the Panthers hold the edge in the powerplay. The Panthers both generate and give up more shots than the Devils. This series will probably go the distance, with more playoff experience on the Panthers side, unless MB30 looks like the guy of 10 or even 5 years ago, you should not be shocked if the Panthers advance after their first ever division title.
4: Pittsburgh Penguins vs 5: Philadelphia Flyers
There will be no love in these games. Not unless its a love of winning and rubbing ones opponents face in it. The teams hate each other, the fans would cheerfully massacre the other cities, and the coaches aren’t over fond of each other either. This will be as compelling to watch as last year Boston vs Montreal series, and should be the best opening round matchup in either division.
With the relative tightness of the race, this series will come down to guts and discipline. The Penguins are better at home, the Flyers better on the road. The powerplays have identical proficiency, the penalty killing edge is in the Penguins favor, the teams delivered an identical number of hits, and the Flyers blocked more shots. While neither Bryzgalov nor Fleury did anything they wanna brag about in the last few days of the regular season, neither one had a bad March with the edge going to the Flyers keeper. Fleury has been to the promised land and Bryzgalov has not. That said, Bryzgalov has the better post season save percentage, and Bryzgalovs career save percentage against the Penguins is much, better than Fleury’s against the Flyers (.930 vs .901).
As Jim Ross would say, this one fixes to be a good old fashioned slobber-knocker.
Another NHL regular season is closing. All 30 teams are in action. Some players are auditioning for parts next season in late call ups, some are just hoping to break out of a slump before the post season starts. Some two or three will never play in the NHL again. Retirement for some, permanent assignment back to the AHL for a few, and time overseas will take some of the players who make every season worth watching will be gone.
For those going forward, players like Mike Richards and Jonathan Quick will face their opposite numbers on the San Jose roster tonight as both teams seek to decide their own fate. Nick Foligno of the Senators knows he’s headed for the playoffs for the third time in his career, while younger brother Marcus will attempt to finish the season with a little pride against the Boston Bruins. Joel Ward enters the playoffs for the first time in his career without an All Star quality goalie behind him, and with the certainty that next years squad will be very different if the team doesn’t make it deep.
Who will backup Tim Thomas is still a mystery wrapped in an enigma as Rask continues to recover, the true status of Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews is just as shrouded in darkness, Randy Cunneyworth has been the consummate professional dealing with the well stirred chaos that is the Montreal Canadiens and he probably has no idea if he’ll be coaching the team next season, or working anywhere in the NHL. Kevin Dineen on the other hand might just lockup the Southeast Division title and the Jack Adams award with a win, steering a team with only two 20 goal scorers, and with just two key players to have skated in every game is amazing, doing it with a roster that saw 35 skaters and 4 goalies take the ice is simply remarkable.
The New York Rangers last won the Stanley Cup when they won the Presidents Trophy. A win today will give them the Presidents Trophy. A win today would also lock in a first round matchup with today’s opponent the Washington Capitals who all things considered would probably rather play the Boston Bruins in the first round.
Jared Spurgen finishes his second NHL season today one point from doubling his rookie numbers, and while again he finds himself on the outside looking in the former Spokane Chief has the chance to play spoiler two years in a row, if he can rally the Wild over the Coyotes it’s likely the Phoenix team loses out on home ice in the first round. Phil Kessel has gone from hero and savior to scapegoat in a couple short years in Toronto and has only a game with the Canadiens in which he might extend his career high in goals.
So what’s left to play for today? Pride, position a new contract, hope for the future, and the chance to go home on a positive note.