Dennis Seidenberg has been an invaluable bastion of calm, professional competence on the Boston Bruins blueline is done for the year. With any defenseman other than Seidenberg or Chara you’d shrug, examine the depth charts and medical reports and go forward. In this case however, especially with only one other veteran defender, Johnny Boychuk, that might not be an option for a team that in the words of its own leadership should compete for a Stanley Cup every year.

Option 1

Do nothing. Not precisely nothing, just don’t bring in any external talent. With Hamilton mending, and Joe Morrow doing well in the AHL you have high end draft picks waiting in the wings to fill minutes. Both are high end skaters, both have shown their pick wasn’t a waste. On the ice now are Boychuck, McQuaid, Krug, Bartkowski and Miller. The first four of them have seen playoff action under Julien and earned at least that much trust. Boychuck and McQuaid were part of the Stanley Cup win and know the game at the NHL level.

Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski are a little less familiar to fans. Krug is a small, undrafted highly mobile defenseman signed out of college as a free agent who burst onto the scene in the playoffs last year and is now the only defenseman to play in every game for the Bruins. Bartkowski’s journey is equally blue collar if of a slightly different path. Often overlooked is that the Pittsburgh native was a part of the trade that brought Seidenberg to Boston. After a false start or two Bartkowski stake a claim to to a roster spot and has been a solid contributor to the team. An interesting trivia note is that Bartkowski was supposed to be part of the aborted trade that would have brought Jarome Iginla to Boston last year.

Kevan Miller and to a lesser extent David Warsofsky and Zach Trotman are the internal candidates to help fill the roster spot while Hamilton is still recovering. While Hamilton is recovering, it is unlikely any moves will be made unless there is a major setback for the towering second year defender.  Elsewhere on the list are Tommy Cross and Chris Casto who have yet to even earn a recall.

Option 2:

The modest trade. The minutes you most want to fill are the defensive shutdown minutes which are a vast gulf that is just about impossible to fill based purely on talent or similar attributes because of the need for chemistry, and some might say synergy among those defending than pure objective skill. A trade for anyone under four million a year who could play some or all of the 2:36 a night of shorthanded time on ice Seidenberg has left unclaimed.

  • Mark Stuart, as a retread he would be familiar with all of the teams core players from Bergeron, Lucic and Krejci to Chara, Boychuk and Rask. He even played as part of an effective pairing with Boychuk. He’s tough as nails, the Jet’s aren’t going anywhere and would love a talent infusion. A couple middling draft picks for the pending (and inexpensive) UFA would do the trick.
  • Matt Greene, like Stuart is a pending UFA. With the pipeline from the Manchester Monarchs wide open the 30 year old blueliner has found his ice time reduced overall, but is still contributing a good 3:18 a night of shorthanded time on ice. At under 3 million a year, he wouldn’t break the bank and is unlikely to strip the farm bare.
  • Victor Bartley is a name that’s probably a bit under the radar anywhere outside Nashville Tennsessee and Ottawa, but Bruins brass is familiar with the 25 year old who had a ten game tour of duty with the Providence Bruins in the 2008-09 season. His on ice sv% is one of the higher ones on the Predators, and he plays solid shorthanded minutes for perhaps the most conservative minded coach in the NHL.
  • Jared Spurgeon, with 200 NHL games to his name the 25 year old is the 2nd highest paid defender for the Wild, and plays in all situations. I can’t imagine him being traded for picks alone, but for as a team that should be looking to tweak their offense, Spurgeon might find himself in a new zip code if Chuck Fletcher can find the right pieces to turn his collection of forwards into a contending team.

Next up, option 3.

10: Loui Eriksson‘s well known fighting overawed him.

9: He was reading the instructions on his forearm that say “stick is for shooting the round black thing”.

8: It was a ploy to get the press to talk about anything other than how bad the team is.

7: It was a career ambition of John Scott to be the subject of a Mike Milbury rant twice in less than four weeks.

6: He wasn’t looking specifically for Eriksson, but anyone other than Chara or Lucic would do.

5:  Given Eriksson’s standing as the NHL’s 629th ranked hitter, it was in retaliation for a series of dirty hits earlier in the game:

LHits4: He wanted to make sure he had time off when Pac-man and the Ghostly Adventures is released on October 29th.

3.2: #NHLWheelOfJustice is his favorite web series, its just so unpredictable.

3: The team being booed at home hurt his feelings and he just lashed out, and feels very, very bad for it.

2: Ron Rolston told him he’d be replaced by a cardboard cutout if he wasn’t on the score sheet by the end of his next shift.

1: When Steve Ott is your captain everyone knows where you’ve set the bar.

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.

There are reports from RDS and elsewhere that Kris Letang has reached a deal with the Penguins to keep him in town another eight years. For $7,250,000.00 each season player 58 will be on the ice for the foreseeable future.

This contract makes him the third highest paid defenseman in the NHL and in the 2014-15 season stands to make him the 13th highest paid player in the NHL. The question is why? Is he offensively gifted? Sure. He also plays in a nearly pure offensive system with two of the best playmakers in the NHL, and a couple 30 goal men too. When you have six, or seven highly talented forward to pass the puck to or serve as decoys when you shoot, scoring is a bunch easier. Even with that level of production in front of him, he’s still just over half a point a game for his career in the regular season at .54ppg.

Also to be considered is his injury history. Since breaking into the NHL during the 2006-7 season, he has only played the full season once. His litany of injuries includes concussions and numerous “lower body injuries”. As a guy whose whole game is predicated on his ability to move, those lower body injuries have to be worrisome.

By comparison, Drew Doughty who has turned into a legitimate two way defenseman is at .51ppg, and the comparisons between an offense that has been in the bottom third of the NHL most of Doughty’s career doesn’t even compare to the Penguins. Doughty also missed just 11 games in his career, won Olympic gold, and yet somehow the Penguins are paying Letang more.

Letang’s playoff performance has also been spotty at best. In the 2012-13 playoffs he was held pointless by the Boston Bruins as part of the team being swept. In the 2008-9 playoff run he put up a goose egg against the Carolina Hurricanes. The 2007-8 second season saw him held pointless against the Detroit Red Wings, The New York Rangers and the Ottawa Senators. That’s fifty percent of crucial games where an offensive defenseman has failed to provide offense.

Another telling stat is his on ice save percentage. In this season, counting only the Penguins defenseman that played thirty or more of the forty eight games Kris Letang ranks dead last and by a wide margin. Letang’s on ice save percentage is in fact the only qualifying defenseman who’s numbers are worse than both team goalies. By comparison the Boston Bruins Zdeno Chara who Letang will now make more than has a OISvP of .930 to Letang’s .914, Montreal Candiens Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban owned a .926, and his teams goalies were significantly less average than Pittsburgh’s this season. The other Norris finalist this season was Ryan Suter who played with a rookie defensive partner much of the season (as did Chara) he laid claim to a .925.

Suter, Chara, Subban, and of course Doughty are demonstrably at least as productive at both ends of the ice as Letang, and all four are healthier, two of the four played more minutes than Letang and yet all will be paid less than the owner of Pittsburgh’s latest mega-contract.

Game five brings us to a best of three scenario to decide this years champion. The two best teams in the world are squaring off and to the surprise of no one who knows hockey, the series is even after four games. Even in home wins. Even in road wins. Even in frustration.

Will The Real Defense Please Stand-up?

The defense in game three was awful. Chara and Seidenberg were bad. The Blackhawks penalty kill allowed not one but two powerplay goals to a Bruins man advantage that aspires to iffy most years. All of the players both teams count on to keep the puck out of the net, including the goaltenders were just bad. Both defensive systems are capable of imposing their will on a game.

Which Boy Bounces Best

We have two goalie who are playing in their first Stanley Cup Finals. Both gave up some soft goals in the last game. Rask gave up six and never held a lead. Crawford surrendered more than one lead. No one expected a 6-5 game at all in this round, and the first three games set the benchmark for the series. Which ever goalie can bring their performance back to the level of games two or three is the one whose team will win tonight and likely the series.

Top Six Top Cats

Game four saw Bergeron break free for two games, Lucic add his own, and Toews, Kane and Sharp all deliver on their top tier status as well. Both coaches were displeased with the way the game was played and have to be looking for a more structured affair. Which ever teams top lines manage to break through and contribute to containing their opposite number will go a long, long way towards winning the game.

Possession and Disruption
The Boston Bruins blocked just 11 shots in game four, the Blackhawks gaveaway only six pucks in game three. Both are a wide margin lower than previous games. If the Bruins can’t keep the Blackhawks from getting high percentage shots on goal, they have a good shot. The Blackhawks need to keep moving the puck to each other instead of shooting themselves in the foot every other rush up ice.

With three games in the history books, the Stanley Cup Finals reaches the halfway point of possible games tonight. Each team has seen the other throw the best they have out there, each team has had players head down the tunnel and not come back.

Puck Possession:

While faceoffs are a key part of this, they aren’t the only component. The Blackhawks are not winning enough battles along the boards. They have plenty of big strong guys who should be able to go get the puck from smaller Bruins players like Ference, Marchand or Seguin, but we haven’t seen that. If you lose both the board battles and the faceoff war, you’re not going to win many games unless the other team has a truly bad goalie.

Passion versus Control:

Halfway through the first Kaspars Daugavins may have taken the stupidest penalty of the Bruins post season with a flagrant elbow he’s lucky didn’t see him sent to the dressing room. At the end of the third period of game three the nasty climbed out of the alleyways and onto the ice. Zdeno Chara and Bryan Bickell locked up and exchanged some leather and lather. Andrew Shaw and Brad Marchand went a little further and dropped the gloves before quickly joining them there.

Will we see a cleanly played series devolve into something where stupid penalties and reprisals break up the flow of the game. So far we’ve seen long periods of whistle free hockey, not just because of the abbreviated playoff rule book, but because both teams have played clean. If the emotional storm we saw in the fading minutes of game three continues, especially with frustration mounting for players like Toews who had a bit of a meltdown during the Red Wings series the penalty box could get quite cramped.

Rebounds and Follow Ups:

We’ve seen both goalies control a lot of the shots they face, when they haven’t that’s when we see goals. In game two, the first period goal on Rask was one that bounced off his glove twice in a sequence where he had to make five or six saves before allowing the goal. Game two didn’t see much in the way of rebounds, and even less of Blackhawks in the right spots to get to them.

Matchups:

As is often the case in the playoffs, it isn’t the star players doing most of the five on five scoring. This series has seen the Bruins new look third line of Paille-Kelly-Seguin has given the Blackhawks fit. It combines two of the Bruins three fastest forwards on the wings, and the solid passing, strong faceoff ability, and focused determination of Chris Kelly. If the Blackhawks have to pull Keith or Seabrook off of other duties to cover this line, it means they are likely opening up another can of worms.

At five on five, the Bergeron line has generated chances, but not much finish, likewise the Krejci line has had chances but little finish since Lucic’s two goals in game one. The Bruins need to take advantage of the Blackhawks relatively weak road game and perhaps send these two lines over the boards against different defensive pairs.

Injuries and Endurance:

We’ve seen Marian Hossa sit out a game, and Nathan Horton depart in overtime in this series. With thirteen periods of hard hitting, tight checking hockey played these two teams have already played more than four games of ice time against each other. We know neither of the two big bodied right wings is at 100%, we’ve also seen enough hits, bodies crashing into the boards or net, and simple fatigue to know there are likely to be two or three other players on each team who wouldn’t be playing if this were a regular season game.

The shell game Quenneville played with the Hossa injury and the Smith substitution can probably fill in one or two names for us there. For the Bruins, if we see Daugavins back in the lineup after some pretty poor play, you can’t help but wonder what type of shape Jordan Caron and the other black aces are in.

This has actually been a great series to watch, as long as you aren’t a Penguins fan or hadn’t wagered heavily on them. There’s been a high scoring game, laugher goals, big hits, player tantrums, scrums, guts on display and high paced hockey for five periods in a row. Unfortunately if you do favor the Penguins they’ve come up short with a single good effort and two bad ones.

1:

Which Penguins team shows up? If it is the version from game two, this series will be over in all but the final details of the records by the middle of the first period. If the team that showed up for game three takes the ice, there is a solid chance the Consol Energy Center will get another home game.

2:

Is there something wrong with Adam McQuaid? He played over five minutes less than rookie Torey Krug during the 95 minute long game three and was part of the parade down the tunnel. He and Krug have been a solid pair, and if he is out or ineffective the reshuffling of pairs might result in some weak spots in the armor of the Bruins being exposed.

3:

Do even the hardest of the blowhards believe the meltdown this series has been is primarily Dan Bylsma’s fault? He could have made some better choices, and not shuffling the lineup after game one would have, for example, shown some poise and confidence. For that matter not putting Tyler Kennedy a proven postseason performer is highly curious, but there are about 24 or 25 other people at ice level who have been a bigger detriment to the team.

4:

Will any Penguin’s player show up and impose more of their will on the game than Deryk Engelland? The 194th pick of the 2000 draft has thrown the body with a will, passion and precision that has likely made him the best Penguin through three games. He’s the only player to even try to consistently play physically against Lucic and Horton. As one of the lowest paid players on the Penguins roster, he’s got to be the only man on the team who can look himself in the eyes and say he’s earned his money.

5:

Will this be Jagr’s game to score? It has to happen eventually, and being the player to put his old team away would be fitting.

6:

Which teams stars will have the biggest impact on the game? To date Crosby and Malkin have had a very poor series. Letang’s series can probably best be described with the use of two to three of the “seven deadly words”. But the Bruins stars aren’t immune to bad games, Rask single-handedly gave the Ranger game 4, the Krejci, Horton, Lucic line have been known to make horrific line changes or turnovers. Or it could be a dazzling performance from Jarome Iginla, or Zdeno Chara, maybe Tyler Seguin or Matt Niskanen is able to seize the the game and take it over?

For this drinking game you’ll need two beverages. You mght want to pick drinks mathing your favorite team colors or just the two nearest things you can handle in volume.

First Drink:

Take One Sip:

  • Every time scoring chances are mentioned.
  • An opponent of from the previous round is mentioned.
  • Jarome Iginla and Matt Bartkowski are mentioned in the same sentence.
  • The cameras pan the crowd or the guy between the benches instead of a scrum.
  • You know what a coach/player is going to say in an interview before they say it.
  • Either team gets a five on three powerplay.
  • Don Cherry makes more sense than anyone else the camera has been aimed at in the last ten minutes.

Two Sips:

  • If the trade deadline is mentioned.
  • If Jagr’s time in Pittsburg is mentioned.
  • If any mention is made of the number of Stanley Cup wins a players has.
  • If the Nathan Horton vs Jarome Iginla fight is shown.
  • A goaltending change is made.
  • A pending UFA is mentioned.

Three Sips

  • A full period passes where you don’t hear the name of the junior and or college team any player was drafted from.
  • Anyone says a team is or isn’t getting bounces.
  • The broadcast fails to show a faceoff but cuts in when the puck is already in motion.
  • Two commericals for the smae company play in one commercial break.
  • A period ends with more than a 10 shot difference between the teams.

 

Second Drink

Take One Sip:

  • If Chara’s size is mentioned.
  • If any of Crosby’s past injuries are mentioned.
  • If a backup goaltender is shown.
  • If either Coach is shown standing on the bench.
  • Someone on sicial media says the offials are biased.
  • Someone dangles so much they lose the puck with no one with no help from opposing players.

Two Sips:

  • James Neal or Tyler Seguin miss high and hit the glass with a shot.
  • The broadcaster between the benches asks the guy(s) in the booth if they saw something going on in the game.
  • Someone mentiones “line shuffling”.
  • Any rookie is pointed out (Simone Despres and Beau Bennett for the Penguins, Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton, Matt Bartkowski for the Bruins).
  • A general manager or owner is shown.
  • A fairly routine hockey play (faceoff win, goal, or saucer pass, etc) is described as “wizardy” or magic.

 

Three Sips:

  • The Bruins powerplay scores in a game.
  • The Penguins get a shorthanded goal.
  • A too many men penalty is called.
  • A penalty is called that makes no sense.
  • Matt Cooke’s hit on Marc Savard is mentioned.

 

Double Fist (1 sip of each)

  • If the playoff win total of a coach is mentioned.
  • Trades between the teams are mentioned.
  • The age of a player or players are mentioned in relation to how long its been since the teams last played in the playoffs.
  • The regular season series is mentioned.
  • Any player is mentiond for a past award or current nomination.
  • An obvious rule is explained for no reason.
  • Some says the refs have swallowed their whistle.
  • The compressed schedule in the regular season is mentioned.
  • Everytime there’s an obvious dive that goes uncalled.
  • If there is a fight where the combined salary is more than four million dollars.
  • Players or officials are said to be sending a message.

 

Skip a drink if:

  • You find yourself unable to scream coherently at a pinkhat.
  • You start explaining a simple rule like “icing” and take longer than two minutes.
  • You can’t remember which beverage to drink from.
  • Both fourth lines are on the ice.
  • A family member, girlfriend or spouse of a player is shown in the audience.

 

Disclaimer:

You can seriously injury yourself, destroy property, or even die even if your participation in this drinking game is nothing more than water. If you should happen to do something incredibly idiotic and entertaining during this drinking game that makes it to Youtube, TextsFromLastNight or other fun sites; do send a link. It won’t make your life better, but I’ll get a laugh too. No one is responsible for the stupid you commit but you.

Feel free to tweet @PuckSage as you play.

The Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins will square off in a best of seven series for the right to earn those final four wins against a western conference foe.

For the Pittsburgh Penguins, Malkin, and Crosby will try and aid newcomer Neal, and grizzled veterans Iginla, and Morrow in earning there way into the history books. The offence of the Penguins is without a doubt the best left in the playoffs. The Penguins can ice three lines of players who on many teams would be the top threat. Iginla is likely a first ballot hall of fame inductee, and no one is going to name him first as the teams premiere offensive player.

The Boston Bruins are strongest at the other end of the ice. Zdeno Chara a former Norris trophy winner remains the NHL’s measuring stick for shutdown defense, and all others come up lacking. He’s aided by Seidenberg who’s journeyman career took the step up to mastery when he pulled on the spoked B. Behind them are rookie sensations Bartkowski, Krug and Hamilton, and the often overlooked Masterson Nominee Adam McQuaid, and veteran Boychuk of the booming shot and shot blocking. The likely starting defense of Chara, Seidenberg, Boychuk, McQuaid Bartkowski, and Krug is intimidating enough having dismantled the Rangers, behind them are Ference who one a Cup with the Bruins, and Reddem who was with Chara part of that smothering Senator’s defense a few years ago.

The point where both teams are likely to fail is in net. Neither netminder has played this deep in the playoffs. Last season, and the season before neither was a number one goaltender. Rask had a meltdown against the Flyers that will forever live in infamy. Vokouns previous most winning post season campaign had grand and sweeping total of two wins. Neither goalie has proven anything. If you are ranking each teams strengths from greatest to least the Penguins will have scoring, defense and goaltending in that order. The Bruins will list defense, offence and goaltending. Worse for each team is the unreliable nature of their backups. Khudobin has performed admirably as a backup for Rask, but the only reason Vokoun is playing at all is the goalie he normally backs up had a complete meltdown against the New York Islanders. The bottom line: don’t expect many 1-0, 2-1 games.