It’s game day, and the Bruin’s will resume what may be their fiercest non divisional rivalry. Over the decades,  the teams have exchanged hits, slashes and players. Recent history includes the concussions to Bruins star forward Patrice Bergeron, former Bruins defenseman Andrew Alberts, and the broken wrist of David Krejci. None of us will soon, if ever, forget the loss last spring of a series that seemed well in hand. The list of players responsible is longer than just Mike Richards and Tuukka Rask. David Krejci owns some of the blood guilt for not paying better attention to who was around him during a playoff series against one of the more physically aggressive teams in the NHL, management owns more than a little for hiding the extent of Thomas’s injury and not even considering bringing up another goalie for situations like we saw unfold.

Tonight will also be the first Bruins game after the trade of Matt Hunwick. Without Hunwick the Bruins have gotten slower, less agile and less experienced. While I’ve held some reservations about him, I think the loss of speed will show if not tonight, then soon. While McQuaid’s physicality will be welcome against the Flyers, he’s not get the same foot speed or offensive potential. With Marc Savard so close to his return, the angst and competition for roster space should have hit overdrive. It’s a given that Matt Hunwick will not be the last hometown hero we say good bye to this season, the question of who else goes is still up for debate, but it’s coming and sooner rather than later.

Today’s 5 questions:

  1. Who scores first? The Bruins are unbeaten when scoring the first goal, the Flyers are .714. the stats suggest this could be important.
  2. Who wins the battle of the premier defensemen? Pronger seems to get more press, and has a ring, Chara is a more impressive physical specimen and didn’t get mocked by the juvenile delinquents who hoisted the Cup this spring.
  3. Can anyone of the Bruins regular centers win more faceoffs than they lose, other than Bergeron?
  4. Will Patrice Bergeron finally bust his goal scoring slump? If so can he match his November goal total tonight?
  5. Which goalie steal the show tonight? There are three potential show stoppers on tap, Thomas, Rask, and Bobrovsky. Who steps up?

Matt Hunwick, we hardly knew you, and now you’re an Avalanche.

Matt,

Good luck, I always liked your heart. Even on the nights when your head was elsewhere you laid your body on the line.  You had your spleen removed while you were here, you nearly had your eye gouged out by Mike Komisarek, and you had a memorable fight with some nameless git on the Carolina Hurricanes.  While some of us found you maddeningly inconsistent, we all love your shot, adore your skating and hell, you gave grown men a chance to call you “Hunny” with your breakouts and sick puck handling. I think you’re solid at defense, but maybe the Avalanche will convert you back to a winger. I think with your speed and shot you might succeed their beyond what you can do as defenseman. I doubt this trade was highly personal, it’s just a matter of salary movement and you got the ticket west. We both know others will be leaving the hub of hockey. But who knows, Glen Murray returned, you might too. I doubt the guy you were traded for, a former BU Terrier, Colby Cohen, will see the roster anytime before the All Star game at the earliest, Kampfer and Bartowski are probably arguing right now over which of them will end up in your locker. Both deserve a shot, and you still get to go play for an upcoming team. As a veteran of three different playoff series you may find yourself a leader on your new team.

Much success (except against the Bruins),

Puck Sage

For various reasons the players in this post are highly unlikely to be traded. Some would induce a rant from the average Boston Bruins fan that’d make a Mel Gibson diatribe look as meek and melodic as the local choirs rendition of Silent Night.

Mark Stuart. As one of his biggest fans I’d be displeased to see him go under nearly any circumstance. Given the stable of defensemen behind him, it’d be foolish to send him off without getting something similar in return. At this point only two of the defensemen outside the top six have the physical gifts to be a punishing, durable, aggressive defender in front of the Bruins crease at near the same scale as Stuart. Adam McQuaid is one of them, and he lacks polish and to a degree poise, and I doubt he’s got the same locker room presence, and he’s not quite as punishing a defender. The other is Ryan Donald, at 24 he’s  now a facing a long uphill climb to make it to a full time NHL position, and the jump from the AHL to top four minutes in the NHL is not one that most could expect to make in half a season.

Johnny Boychuck, with a full season left on his contract and his skating, hitting, power play time and blazing shot, it’s hard to imagine any team willingly parting with Boychuck. He’s developed into a top four defenseman after years of toiling in the AHL. While Boychuck’s attractive tradebait, he’s not going to clear much in the way of cap space, and it’s doubtful there’s much that could be brought back with a similar or greater value for less or equal money, the odds of a team being willing to part with that talent in the first place are even lower.

No list of unlikely trade candidates would be complete without he inclusion of Tuukka Rask. He’s young, he had a highly successful regular season last year, he’s got good health and a friendly contract. He’s part of the wave of Finnish goaltenders that have swept over the NHL in the last two or three years. By himself he could probably bring back a good piece of talent, as part of a package, the Bruins might be able to unload a salary or two that other teams might not normally be willing to take on.  Leaving aside Dallas, Atlanta, and Phoenix all who have various ownership issues there are still a dozen teams with more than three million in cap space. When you consider that we’re one quarter of the way through the season and contracts are prorated on a daily basis, that makes even a four million dollar salary doable. It is likely that a team like Florida who is not expected to resign Vokoun, or Edmonton who don’t have much between the pipes might be willing to part with a couple high picks or prospects and take on a salary or two, particularly if they are expiring, to nail down what some call the hardest position to draft for.

While I doubt that the Bruins have given up on Joe Colborne yet, I suspect he’s probably not overly pleased with playing on the fourth line in Providence. Jamie Arniel was among the last players cut before the Bruins departed for their European trip, and the 2008 pick fourth rounder currently leads the P-Bruins in both goals and points. Zach Hamill, was a high pick in the notably thin 2007 draft, and might just decide to seek greener pastures. With the additions of Seguin, and Spooner to this years horde of centers, it’s not entirely outside probability that he asks to be traded. At this point all three would essentially be afterthoughts in any cap clearing trade, in regards to this years cap. Next year though Colborne’s entry level deal could prove prohibitive with the hard cap taking affect.

It’s as big a secret as Perez Hilton’s sexuality that the Boston Bruins are in a bad cap place. The sword of Damocles has been doing more dangling than Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Anze Kopitar combined. Before the season started, it was widely speculated who would be signed at all, who would be dealt, and who would stay. The return of Marc Savard’s post concussion syndrome, and Marco Sturm’s long recovery from a second knee injury provided a stay of execution for both the front office, and the players. With Savard recently cleared for contact, and Sturm skating urgency is the word of the day. The on ice play of some members of the Black and Gold has made what was expected to be a clear cut case of dumping salary far more murky.  Here’s a look at some of the players who are highly unlikely to be moved in the next week or two.

First on the list of players going no where is Tim Thomas, last season he battled a hip injury, a hand injury, a team that spent most of the season forgetting that they were supposed to play in front of him. This year he’s returned to his Vezina winning form, a form that includes acrobatics that might land him a job in Cirque du Soleil if he ever considers a career change, and a shutout collection that seems to grow weekly. To put things in perspective, in his Vezina season where he split duties with Manny Fernandez, he had five shutouts in fifty seven games. This season in thirteen he has four.  He currently leads the NHL in Sv%, GAA, and SO. He also has a NMC he’s unlikely to waive.

Next on the list is Olympic Gold Medalist, faceoff ace, best all around player and longest tenured skater, Patrice Bergeron. He’s a leader both on and off the ice, is an emotional catalyst for the team, can play center where he has been for the past several season, or wing where he was drafted. Bergeron plays in all situations, and is one of the guys who can be counted on to show up and play every shift of very game.  Even if one of the youngsters should emerge as a better option at center the not-quite greybeard can easily be slip back to right wing. He was resigned to a new three year deal back in October as well. As the organization has made it a goal to get bigger at forward losing the largest of the top three centers, who also outmasses Seguin, Spooner and Suave seems like a step backward.

Milan Lucic isn’t going any place. He’s probably not going anyplace even if he asks to be traded. Leaving aside the burgeoning power forward’s on ice contributions, he’s good for merchandise sales. Given the huge cheers that spring up from the Garden Crowd’s whenever he touches the puck or pummels someone, even if he did ask for a trade I don’t think I’d want to be the GM who traded the man who is currently the teams goal scoring leader, has turned in one of the best post season +/-‘s in the last several years, and has worked consistently at improving one aspect of his game every season since he got here. Just go look at footage of his skating from his rookie season, and then look at his skating now. Then, go look at his second season and pay attention to his shot release.  His release wasn’t quite slow enough to be clocked with a sun dial, but it’s no where near the speed it is today. Also, he’s leading Phil Kessel in goals, points, and plus-minus right now.

Zdeno Chara, it may seem strange that I have to list a six foot nine, two hundred sixty pound, Norris Trophy winning blueline monster who happens to be the team captain on this list, and I agree. However, there are certain chowderheads in the local media who don’t buy Chara as a number one defenseman, much less an elite defenseman who can’t be left any objective list of the top ten defensemen in the NHL, and will probably appear in most top five lists.  While his $7.5 million cap hit would erase the cap crunch in one move, the question becomes what sort of value are you getting back? None of the comparable defensemen (Keith, Weber, Doughty, Pronger, Lidstrom) are going to come cheap (if at all), and both Pronger and Lidstrom are older than Chara. I can’t see the front offices in Chicago, Columbus or LA doing anything but laugh hysterically at the thought of trading their studs. For the next tier down, (Suter, Seabrook, Markov, Jovanovski, Bouwmeester) you’re looking at players who are either not going to be available, one dimensional, or who have consistency issues.  While a blockbuster trade that sent Chara and Ryder to Atlanta for Byfuglien, Kane and a pick might work in a fantasy league, and would be exciting, I think I’ll fail to hold my breath on it happening.

Marc Savard, not only is he aging, not very athletic, and possibly subject to bias from high up the NHL pecking order, he’s now making a second comeback from at least his second concussion. He’s got a no trade clause he’s unlikely to waive, and on top of that he’s still a dynamic playmaker with sensational passing skills on a team that’s offense is shaky.  I don’t see him wanting to go anywhere else, even to a team where he’d have as good a shot at winning a cup as he does in Boston (or better) in the next year or two.

Marco Sturm. As the longest tenured German in NHL history, you might expect him to be older than his 32 years. Despite the injuries of the last two years he’s been a remarkably consistent and healthy player. In the last seven seasons that he’s played 64 or more games he’s never failed to score less than twenty goals.  With the depth up front he has a solid shot at breaking twenty goals again. There’s even a possibility he’s reunited with old running mate Patrice Bergeron. This is the last year of his contract, and he’s got to be playing not just for pride this year, but for his future employment. He’s another of the Boston players with solid three zone play.

Next Post:  players it may be most beneficial to trade.

Every year, on every team in any sport on the planet someone is blamed for each failure. The failure doesn’t have to be real, doesn’t have to be their fault, they just end up being blamed. Before last season, and well into early spring Bob Gainey’s named was linked to more jokes than perhaps any other GM in the NHL. With the Smurfs he’d assembled for his forwards, and the money spent on their salaries even his firmest adherents had to wonder what’s he thinking? I didn’t even expect them to make the playoffs, and then they rattled off back to back series wins against the defenseless although offensively gifted Capitals and Penguins.  With his successors offloading of Halak to clear up the goalie controversy, it’s only a matter of time before we find out if Gauthier is similarly ridiculed or at least temporarily granted the status of hockey genius.

In Chicago, Dale Tallon was questioned to the ends of the earth for his unique and singular salary cap arrangements. The BlackHawks won the Cup and most was forgiven. Just days after the bright spot in flyover country celebrated the end of its Stanley Cup drought, the fire sale began.  Over the next several weeks, roughly eighty goals and six thousand* minutes of time on ice would disappear over the trade horizon. If the BlackHawks who finished just ten points ahead of the Detroit Red Wings don’t have a strong showing, who will be fingered? Will Tallon get the blame? Will someone who’s looking at the championship season through the golden glow of never-was claim Turco is a lesser goalie Niemi? Or perhaps the Bowman family mystique will gather a little tarnish and the current GM will be blamed for not getting a better exchange for the departed Versteeg, Sopel, Byfugelien and others?

In Boston, not without a great deal of reason, Denis Wideman and Michael Ryder were the undisputed owners of the dog house. Wideman who’s season is best summed up in the video of him picking his nose, and not just his collision with slighter partner Matt Hunwick but the subsequent fall to the ice was actively booed at home. Ryder was far less spectacular in his gross failures seeming to have just as much positive impact on a given game from the bench as from the ice. Then too there is the fact he is the only person who saw the vicious and career threatening hit on Marc Savard from beginning to end, and did nothing about it. This season with with Wideman banished to hockey (and sports in general) exile in south Florida, Ryder needs to do everything he can to stave off the ire of the fans, and earn his next contract. If he puts in a concerted effort he might just avoid being the most irksome member of the organization. Claude Julien is probably the man next most likely to find himself on the outs with fans. His loyalty to players is both a gift and a curse, he undeniably wanted Ryder and Wideman to succeed last season and gave them every opportunity to do so. Yet, the refusal to sit either of them for even a period, much less a game or two in the press box provided no incentive for an admittedly thin AHL prospect group to do better, and an early benching of two long time ‘coaches guys’ might have kept the Bruins from having to dump Derek Morris.  Punishments that that are aimed at the principle and pour encourager les autres are a long, long tradition because they work.

It will be will be interesting to see who emerges as their teams scapegoat this year. Will the blame be at ice level as is likely in some cases? Will General Managers like George McFee be called on the carpet for failing to improve their teams defense, if (when) they are ripped apart in the playoffs for this very failing again? Will Rick Nash, RJ Umberger and Steve Mason get all the blame in Columbus for a team with more than seven million in cap space failing to make any noise in the playoffs? How about the situation in Nashville? They have two of the best defensemen in the NHL in Weber and Suter, and not a great deal else. Will the coach be cast from the chariot at the end of the season (or sooner) if they fail to thrive? And too, one must wonder who is to blame for the status of the Islanders new arena.

*Six thousand is roughly a quarter of the 24,600 minutes of play by skaters in each season assuming no penalties.

It seems almost every third contract in the National Hockey League these days has some sort of No Movement Clause, No Trade Clause or some other provision that will save players the horror of having to learn their way to a new building. While some players never should get them, and in conjunction with a overpayment they are clearly a bad, bad thing for a team to dole out are they actually bad for a team or the NHL?

Often it seems players who take get their NTC or NMC are taking less money than they might get on the open market. It’s doubtful that the Sedin twins could have been signed for their $6.1 million cap hit each without their NMC’s, while some might question if the two are worth it, Henrik Sedin last year proved he could be an elite center, and has averaged more than a point per game over the last four seasons. Realistically speaking had he for instance gone to Calgary to play with Iginla and company he would have commanded more. By comparison, Ryan Kesler who has never gotten more than seventy five points is making five million a year.

There is no conceivable argument that in a league with a salary cap, that the NMC/NTC is not a good thing for both the players and the teams. Teams can save cap space by conceding them in negotiations. Players can rest assured they won’t have to find a new place to live, in a new city and call a hotel home even when they aren’t on the road. But the important thing team should remember, and media as well, is that if a player asks for a NMC/NTC the team is probably doing something right. I honestly can’t imagine any player asking for one of those clauses in a toxic environment, or in a place they can’t stand being.  A team that has many of its core players clamoring for a NMC or NTC is probably one headed in the right direction. The key for the team is identifying who is and isn’t part of the teams core, and keeping enough competition going internally to keep even the players that can’t be moved without their consent driving towards the club goal.

One of the latest rumors of where Marc Savard and Tim Thomas might end up is well Inane. Really. Both guys have no trade clauses, neither wants to leave the hub, and both are nearing the end of their careers. Neither has yet lifted the Cup, nor even played in a Stanley Cup Final series. Both have had to battle for respect, both are top shelf players.

While I think the Islanders are no more than three seasons from being ready for a good playoff run, they have too many weaknesses to be a viable destination for two guys hungry to drink from the Cup that Gretzky, Hasek, Bourque, Orr, Lafluer, Roy, and other giants of the sport have to take a step backwards.

Tavares is hugely talented and no one with the wit to recall that ice is cold can say otherwise. Moulson is a solid offensive threat. Streit is probably the most underrated defenseman in the NHL and they’ve drafted some impressive talent in the last two or three season, which is what happens when you finish in the lottery for years running. Nino Niedderreitter, Kyrill Kabanov, Kirill Petrov,  Travis Hamonic, Brock Nelson, and Calvin de Haan can’t help but improve the team. No doubt the Islanders management will snag a few of the right free agents to fill in the holes.

All that said, the reasons against going to the Islanders for both players are huge.  The Atlantic division may just be the toughest division in the NHL next year. The Penguins, Flyers and Devils are all dangerous, skilled and good at winning games. The Rangers have both King Henrik and Gaborik, with Del Zotto, Girardi and company in between and are all quite effective.

If either one were going to waive their NTC, it would be to go to a team with a lot of potential, and probably closer to their home towns. Thomas being from Michigan, and Savard from the Ottawa area leave the likelihood of the Islanders quite low. On top of that the Islanders had horribly low attendance percentage even without taking into consideration the small, broken down arena and low percentage of seats sold. The Town of Hampstead hasn’t shown itself to be a great friend of the ownerships plans to replace the oldest arena in the NHL either.

The bright among you will notice I’m live at the game. For the curious look in section 15.

For those living under a rock the Bruins have made two trades so far today.

Matt Marquart (F) was shipped off for a defenseman. And a conditional 4th round pick was promised for 2007 4th round pick and Michigan player Kampfer.

With the (tentative) addition of Kampfer and Cody Wild, the Bruins make a much needed step towards addressing the organizations lack of depth on the blueline.

Price and Rask led their squads on to the ice.

As always there are a lkot of red jerseys, surprisingly there are even respectable ones like Richard and Lafleur.

More later.