The Montreal Canadiens and Phoenix Coyotes made a trade that may just be the most over discussed trade of fourth line talent and AHL players of they year. Stay tuned, Columbus and Ottawa could trade guys off their second line.

Former Boston Bruins Joe Thornton and Hal Gill (@Skillsy75) who broke into the NHL the same year each reached their 1000th game. Joe Thornton had contemplated retirement due to injury, and many speculated that with the elimination of licit obstruction Hal Gill would be rendered useless in the post lockout NHL. Gill was a key piece in the Penguins Cup win, Thornton has been the games best passer for the last decade, and is a point per game producer.

James Reimer the current anointed savior of the Toronto Maple Leafs left a game the other day after Brian Gionta made contact with him and is expected to miss at least a came.Henrik Lundqvist left a game due to what was called skate induced foot pain.The goalie guild is no doubt proud.

The Columbus Blue Jackets can’t hold a lead or buy a win. Something tells me there may be a correlation.

The once and future King who has taken three years to get to the NHL after his draft, will take the ice against his big brother when Brayden and Luke Schenn square off. The Flyers and Leafs will be a matchup of he most changed roster of the summer and the most over achieving team of the fall.

Jonathan Quick had three Ok games in a row for the LA Kings.

The Edmonton Oilers either have a scoring problem, or not enough forwards named Ryan.

Congrats to Zach Hamill  (@ZHamill9) on leading the Providence Bruins in scoring.

Anyone who would like to contribute to getting goal for Jaromir Jagr or faceoff wins for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins please contact their respective coaches.

Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes is sporting a 42% faceoff win percentage, has just one assist through eight games, and of the 638 skaters to take the ice this season he was the worst plus-minus and -10, which is twice his teams -5. Karma?

 

Given how little turnover was expected for the remaining roster spots after the signing of Pouliot and the acquisition of Joe Corvo I’m honestly surprised by how many of the AHL players are still in camp. Add in Chris Clark lingering around and you have a genuine mystery if all you do is look at the surface of it. One forward position to fill, and a seventh defensemen to weed from the pack. A coach who just wanted to get thing set up and start working on the regular season lines could be forgiven for making an easy call and going with Jordan Caron who was here for twenty games last season much as Brad Marchand was the year before, or Jamie Arniel who led the Providence Bruins in goals and points and calling the forward position filled. Likewise, Steve Kampfer was in the midst of a promising rookie season before being sidelined, and Matt Bartkowski was called up for six games.

Yet, it is down to ten days left before the banner is raised and the puck is dropped on the new season and ice is littered with other players. Part of this is no doubt an effort to give the key players like Tim Thomas, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and others who did the heaviest lifting throughout the championship run as light as workload as possible. But that can’t explain it all. It’s only when you pull up a site like NHLNumbers.com or CapGeek.com that it becomes apparent that you’re looking at plans for later in the season when it becomes expedient to move players who won’t be brought back either because of their contract demands or their performance, as well as next years potential roster.

As of today, the number of players signed for the 2011-12 season is disconcertingly small. NHLNumbers lists just four defensemen from the Cup run signed beyond this season, Chara, Seidenberg, Ference and McQuaid are a lot of minutes covered but not enough for a full season. Up front the numbers are even worse, excluding Marc Savard, there are just five forwards signed for the 2012-13 season. Worse, of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Tyler Seguin, only Bergeron is not due for contract renewal after that season.

This also explains the early dismissal of the bright junior prospects. Not a few fans were genuinely shocked to see the departure of the top CHL players before allowing them even token appearances in the middle preseason games. While only one or two of the forwards were even close to NHL ready, they weren’t collectively close enough to make distracting from the AHL prospects reasonable. Sauve and Arniel are entering their third year out of juniors. Zach Hamill who had a cameo last season in his fourth year out of Everett Silvertips is one of just two of the two ten picks in the 2007 draft to play less than 100 games in the NHL.

Two of the defense pairings that have emerged through camp and the preseason games draw attention to themselves. The first is veteran Andrew Ference and Colby Cohen who was brought over in the Matt Hunwick trade. Cohen despite being traded for a roster player was not among the defensemen called up during the season. The former BU Terrier has shown some offensive prowess as an amateur but in sixty-six total professional games has just two goals. Cohen’s fellow Keystone State native Matt Bartkowski who was part of the filling on the Seidenberg acquisition has been seen skating with Johnny Boychuck. Bartkowski did manage to be on the ice for six games for Boston last season in with limited ice time.

Add in the return of Zach McKelvie and David Warsovsky’s first full professional season and you can see eleven different defensemen jockeying for seven positions. Warsovsky left school to join Providence last season, and put up three assists in the final ten games of the AHL season.  Warsovsky was acquired for Sobotka and is looked at as a potential powerplay quarterback. McKelvie is fresh off two years with the Army and looks steadier than most expected after two years away from the professional game.

One can’t help but speculate on if we will see one or two of last seasons roster moved. With the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement set to expire at seasons end, the Bruins pitiful powerplay, and the cachet of a fresh Stanley Cup run these might present the perfect storm for getting or moving players for the Bruins suits. Some teams may be nervous the labor dispute will get as bad as the NBA’s. Even a work stoppage that is settled as relatively quickly as the NFL’s could have a negative impact on some struggling franchises ticket sales and advertising revenue. Because of this there is a chance that swapping out a player or two could become irresistible.

With just two preseason games left and a solid dozen players vying to fill two roster spots it is anyones guess who will be on the opening night roster. Given the moves the Bruins have made in recent years in the early portion of the season that have moved players like Matt Hunwick, Jeff Penner and Andrew Alberts the odds of the roster being the same on January 6th as it will be on opening night aren’t very high.

Day two opened with group B attacking the ice first. Lots of simulated game play. Rushes and drills almost the whole session.

Peverley, Hamill, Knight shined brightest among the forwards in the first session. Sauve and Caron were definitely noticeable with good body position on the powerplay/penalty kill drills.

Cheers at the beginning and breaks during sessions were warm. As group b did ended closing stretch

Chara - Peverley

Training Camp 2011

with Rich Peverley leading, the crowds cheering was as loud as you may hear during games in other markets.

Group a had a much crisper feel today. Colby Cohen looked good on defense, Kyle MacKinnon continued making himself known at forward. Alexander Khokhlachev showed a lot with hands, wheels and puck tracking. Nathan Horton appears 100% and is moving well. Jamie Arniel was a late cut last season and the first forward called up last season and looks like that’s not an acceptable turnout this year.

One time Jennings Trophy winner, reigning Conn-Smyth winner and two time Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas got by far the biggest pop from the crowd when he walked on to the ice. The buzz lasted until he’d made his first lap. He moved well but like the other goalies isn’t in mid-season form yet.

The special teams drills in the second session were much more physical than the first session. Some of those dishing out the hot sauce were a surprising. Jamie Arniel and Tyler Seguin handed out some hits and shoves in addition to the warm welcome Thornton, Campbell and Paille greeting specialize in.

Training Camp 2011 1

special teams drill

Colby Cohen and Andy Ference were paired for all the drills and looked good. Cohen moves a lot better than some of the 200lb defensemen I’ve seen. It was notable that when Ference was working the penalty kill he was directing traffic for his unit even over the forwards who might spend a bit more time on the PK during the regular season.

One of the nice things about the practice was the huge number of fans there. At a guess it peaked at over 3000 fans. Quite a few of them clustered around the tunnel, and players stopped to autograph for several minutes. After shedding his gear from the early session the final piece of the Phil Kessel trade Dougie Hamilton returned to the tunnel mouth to sign autographs. he was there signing for at least twenty or thirty minutes.

Dougie Hamilton signing

Dougie Hamilton signing pics at Bruins camp 2011

It was a good show overall. In a similar manner to development camp there were players who stood out in a good way, but not more than one or two who didn’t look like they could compete for an NHL job either now or in the future. I do have a few favorites to make the team that I’ll share later in the week at forward where two or three players have elevated above the others. The defensemen have been a tighter knot and are a bit complicate by who was called up at some point last year and how they performed. The goalie situation I suspect will remain unchanged from last year.

I pointed out one or two players recently I certainly didn’t want to see land in a Bruins uniform, there are some moves I’d really like. I’ll get to those free agent pickups in a moment, but the the bigger question is, do the Bruins really need to make any major moves to be as strong as they were last year, or stronger? Probably not. Mark Recchi and Michael Ryder combined for just thirty two goals last season, Kaberle added just one.  Its a reasonably safe bet Brad Marchand will re-sign.  It’s highly unlikely Marchand will spend a quarter of the year on the fourth line. Tyler Seguin put on some muscle, got a lot of experience, and played with just about everyone on the roster at some point last year. David Krejci will not be entering the season off of wrist surgery as he did last year. Johnny Boychuk will probably not have his arm broken, miss ten games and turn in the lowest goal total of his professional career.

If we go with conservative estimates for the increase of  these four players over last year, most of that difference will be made up.  Boychuk had as many goals in the 25 game playoff run as he did in the 69 times he suited up in the regular season.  David Krejci who ended the season with his lowest full regular season goal total was just one goal short of matching that in the playoffs. Between these two players we can safely estimate two additional goals for Boychuk,  and an additional five for Krejci which is still several goals below his best season.  I would be surprised a great deal if Seguin or Marchand increased their goal totals by less than six each.

Leaving aside production increases by any other players on the roster this is 19 goals.  Of the rest of the roster only Lucic and Thonton set career highs in goals. Chara, Bergeron, Horton, Peverley were all well below their career highs as well. With the odd goal that can be blamed on Tuukka’s knee the Bruins find themselves in pretty good shape. Based on this highly simplified math the Bruins need about 14 goals this season. If they fill both Ryder and Recchi’s slots with rookies (Arniel, Caron, Hamill, Knight, Spooner, Suave) its almost inconceivable that Julien and Co couldn’t squeeze seven goals out of any two of them.

I suspect that if the right UFA deal comes along, the Bruins will grab them. One of the cheif reasons for this is that its a “hard cap” this year with a players bonuses figured into their cap hit counted against the cap. Entry level deal like Seguin’s, any of the players mentioned above would actually leave less available cap space than signing a player like Chris Drury to a $2million deal for the season. Another concern has to be victory disease. Even throwing out the ups, downs, travel, illnesses, and injuries of last season just wining the Cup and the summer of celebration has got to be both exhausting and undermining to motivation. What more can Tim Thomas have to prove? Rich Peverley was undrafted and two goals against a Vezina finalist in the Stanley Cup Finals. Chris Kelly went from the a lottery team to the promised land in less than fifty games. Adding in a hungry veteran either by free agency also allows them to be moved closer to the deadline be it for picks, prospects or other players.

The Providence Bruins have been eliminated from post season play before they even get there for the second time in a row, the question of who’s going to join the big club for the second season. A look at Boston’s needs is probably the best way to eliminate players as despite their performance as a team, several players could make great accessories to an already strong team.

The Bruins powerplay is its most notable weakness, and with all respect to Trent Whitfield, I don’t think he’s the guy to juice an NHL powerplay in the post season. His shot just isn’t NHL level. The two players behind him are Jordan Caron, and Jamie Arniel. Each player had five powerplay goals in Providence this year. Arniel has already hit the twenty goal mark with several games to play and leads the team in goals, points and shots on goal while having a sordid -14. Caron who spent a score of games in Boston had an up and down season, but was also a big part of the penalty kill while in Boston. Either or both could be called up, possibly before the season ends if Thornton’s injury keeps him off the ice for a time.

Depth at defense has been a buzzword since the advent of the Chiarelli administration, I suspect that with Shane Hnidy signed any defenseman brought up will be lucking to get shifts in practice much less games without a multiple major injuries. Yury Alexandrov and Matt Bartkowski each have five goals thus far. While Bartkowski has been called up more than once already this year and this is Alexandrov’s first season in North America, but is a great skater with high end passing ability.

Other guys who could see time in the post season are Zach Hamill who will looked good in Boston (when not playing with Wheeler) and showed a bit more grit than many expected. Max Suave, who had an injury shortened season but who possesses a wicked shot has a solid chance of making it to the big dance.  Suave is also a slick skater who despite a spring ankle surgery managed to stay well into the regular camp this year, he’s among the few Providence Bruins with a positive +/- at +4, and had a four powerplay goals.

Long shots that would say interesting things, but essentially require serious injury to key Boston players include the recent acquired Boris Valabik, newly minted pro Ryan Button (@Buttsy78), and Colby Cohen who was picked up in exchange for Matt Hunwick in something that rhymes with “calorie sump”. Forwards are led by Jeremy Reich, the aforementioned Trent Whitfield, and the under the radar Kirk MacDonald who is currently third in scoring and fourth in goals.

While Savard is a nearly peerless playmaker who can make passes that only a handful of other men can, I’m not convinced his loss is fatal to the playoff hopes of the Bruins. In 25 games he was a -7 and put up just 10 points. Unlike last year or the year before he did not contribute to the penalty kill, and even with him the power play wasn’t stellar. That said, as of right now the Bruins still lead the northeast division, have a great PK, and a solid record against most of the other top teams in the east. They have won their last three against Carolina, have won against Washington, have a shutout over Philly, and have beaten the Penguins, the Lightning have been grounded, and Atlanta fell apart after their last meeting with the Bruins. It is true that the powerplay will become more of an issue in the playoffs, but even there we can look forward to some growth.

Potential replacements for the center position currently filled by Zach Hamill could be either a 1st line production center, of which their are very few, and fewer still on teams that would be willing to part with them. Or they could be a third line checking center. Bergeron can fill either of the two roles, and Krejci is best suited to being the secondary scoring line role.

For either position, given the deficiencies of the team and its playing system this center should have a few qualities:

  • At least 3 trips to the playoffs.
  • a faceoff percentage over 50%
  • the ability to play on both sides of the puck
  • drive to thrive

Some possible candidates are:

  • RJ Umberger, former Flyer, current Blue Jacket has seen action in the playoffs, on two different clubs.  Plays both center and left wing. Umberger is also a big body at 220 and would give the center position much needed size.
  • Brooks Laich, will be a UFA this summer, plays the PK, blocks shots, hits and has been a 20+ goal scorer three times.
  • Vladimir Sobotka, already familiar with the Bruins system, good at faceoffs, was important for the Bruins in the playoffs last year, is fearless and will be able to stand the media attention here in Boston.
  • While the least likely prospect, if the Penguins decide to pull the plug on the season with no time table for Crosby’s return, and Malkin due back about the same time as Savard, Jordan Staal would give the Penguins cap room, and probably get them either a roster player and a probably a 1st round pick and prospect in return. With this they could address their chronic weakness on wing, and their cap crunch.
  • Patrick Sharp, is probably on the team with the most ability to pull the plug on the season and not have a huge fan backlash. While he’s slightly below 50% in faceoffs, he’s got 51 games of playoff experience, a cup ring, 26 goals, and is on pace for a career points year despite the draw down in talent around him.
  • By the trade deadline, despite my preseason pick, the LA Kings could fall out of the race. In which case both Jared Stoll and Michael Handzus might serve the team better by serving someone else for a draft pick. Both are UFA’s either this summer or next and while neither is a number one center, they could fill the third line role admirably. Both have extensive playoff experience as well.

Of them all only Handzus has a no movement clause, Staal is probably a pure pipe dream or too expensive, and that leaves Umberger as likely being the easiest to get with the highest ceiling. I’d be kinda shocked to see anyone of these guys land here, but Chiarelli did say he’d be busy this trade season so all things are possible.

For long time fans of Marc Savard, this press conference was scary on a number of levels. Obviously Savard’s health does come first, and it’s alarming in the extreme to watch a guy who normally burbles and rarely stop talking even long enough to breathe, stumble over words, and speak in a slow staccato. Savard as we all know normally speaks confidently, with humor, and energy. When he talked about feeling normal during the game before he was hit by former teammate Matt Hunwick. Savard does not blame Hunwick, and states that Matt has contacted him not once, but twice.

With his ability to track questions, and dodge them I’m less anxious about this being a career ending injury than I was before the conference.  Chiarelli states he definitely feels there is an equipment issue that needs to be addressed.  I suspect we’ll see some changes to the NHL’s equipment by the time next season starts.  Peter also said he is taking a look at Zach Hamill as a center, but hesitated only a moment before saying they were hoping to make a long run in the playoffs, and might want an experienced player.

One other bit of nonsense that can be brushed aside as pure idiocy is the nonsense about his being unpopular. Chara, Bergeron, and Recchi were all in attendance, Kampfer was there to help him off the ice and Matt Hunwick a former teammate contacted him not one but twice.

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.

With Savard likely out at least a month, and Sturm down checked until probably December, the race for roster spots has gotten even more interesting. I went to the second rookie game against the Islanders and was treated to more hustle and grit from some players than I had expected.

Jamie Arniel was relentless about chasing the puck in his own zone and turned in a very solid two way game. I’ve seen him play before and his speed is no surprise, but his tenacity and work ethic are reminicient of P.J. Axellson.

Ryan Spooner, if there’s any of the picks from this years draft who have just jumped on the ice determined to make every GM who passed him over look silly, it’s this guy. Fast, quick release, solid shot and did better than certain other centers in the faceoff circle tonight against Montreal.  He even picked up a point against the defense that shut down Semin and Green last spring.

Jordan “I’m a first round pick too” Caron had a hat trick in the first game against the Islanders rookies, and delivered three in the Bell Centre tonight. On a team starved for size (Bergeron at 194 lbs was their largest center last year.) his now two hundred plus pound frame might leverage out the slighter men. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a versatile player comfortable at both wing and center. Of note was his penalty kill time against Montreal. He was the only rookie forward to get any PK time, and was just behind Seguin in powerplay time for rookies.

Maxime Suave. It’s hard to believe this guy had a pin removed from his ankle just a few weeks back. His speed is top shelf, and like Arniel his two way play came as a pleasant surprise. This is of course in addition to his release which will remind Bruins fans of a young Glen Murray. Add in his passing ability and you’ve got a lethal combination. During the second rookie game he peeled around the back if the Islanders net, zoomed towards the blueline and made a tape to tape backhand saucer pass to a waiting Spooner who fed it into the goal mouth.

Joe Colborne despite the nose they feared was broken he’s somehow flown under the radar, despite having a solid camp. I suspect he’ll get more of a look this year than he might have if Savard were healthy. He’s packed on a lot of muscle since he was drafted, but still has yet to play an 82 game schedule and was we saw with Blake Wheeler, and other college players this can add some hiccups the already rough transition from other levels of hockey to the NHL.

Michael Hutchinson. While this is probably the least interesting position for the Bruins this year, I got to see this young goalie do some impressive things. He’s very sound positionally, and uses both glove and stick effectively.

Ryan Button. My level of whelm has climbed greatly since prospect camp. I’m not prepared to rewrite the Bruins top 7 depth chart to include him, but I don’t wince when I hear his name.

Matt Bartowski is another of the new boys with his aims set on a top six defense spot. I’m liking what I’m seeing so far, but with defensemen it is so hard to tell.

Yury Alexandrov. I liked his game a lot against the Islanders, his speed and positioning are more than just sound, and he clearly has a “game speed” that is a step or more above his “practice” and “scrimmage” levels. I wonder if he’s doing enough in practice to snatch a roster spot, but I don’t think it matter Julien is pretty conservative overall and he at least knows what he’s gonna get from the seven guys who played defense last year for the Bruins.

These guys will almost certainly be the last half dozen cut with one or two making the squad. Others with an outside shot include Jeremy Reich, Zach Hamill, Jared Knight, and Brad Marchand.