Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Boston Bruins 2013-2014: Back-Up to the Star

It's Tuukka time! Seven Million Dollars per year for the next Eight Years...the highest paid player on the Boston Bruins. Well a star has emerged and the Bruins have locked him up. Unfortunately Rask cannot play all 82 regular season games. So who is the back-up?

 Last year that was a statement, not a question but surprisingly the Bruins appeared to make little effort to re-sign Khudobin . Carolina signed him as a free agent for 1 year at an affordable $800,000 as a back-up to Cam Ward. I thought Khudobin did a good job in relief last year and would be re-signed but there must have been some reason, we are not privy to, why the Bruins made no real effort to bring him back.

Everyone assumed that reason was because Svedberg, after an outstanding year in Providence, would be promoted this upcoming year to be Rask's understudy. Not so fast. The Bruins went out and signed Chad Johnson to a one-year one-way contract for $600,000. Why Johnson over Khudobin? Surely not to save $200,000. Why Johnson over Svedberg? Well this may just be some insurance in case Svedberg struggles in training camp after a somewhat shaky playoff performance. Or maybe the Bruins think after one good year in the AHL, Svedberg would benefit from another. In the AHL Svedberg would get to play more often and perhaps be better prepared for a call-up if Rask gets injured (knock-on-wood). Svedberg could also prove a better mentor to the young Subban who will undoubtedly get the chance to be the back-up in Providence this year.

So good luck to you, Chad Johnson!

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Boston Bruins 2013-2014: Kelly's Role

Chris Kelly had an off year as did the entire 3rd line. After a career year in 2011-2012 scoring 20 goals, he had an off-year scoring a career low 3 goals this past season  Peverley was not effective at all and in the end was traded away. Chris Bourque did not live up to his hype and the line never seemed to gel in the lock-out shortened season with any of the combinations tried resulting in the poorest plus/minus as a line.

At the end of this past season the Bruins finally convinced Soderberg to come to Boston to play. As a natural centre it is likely he will get the nod to start the season as the 3rd line centre. So where does that leave Kelly?

Despite trade rumours Kelly will most likely be back. Kelly's contract runs for 3 more years at $3 million per year and he has a no trade clause. It is unlikely the Bruins will buy-out his contract this year unless his performance is again terrible. Kelly is a nice 5th centre to have around in case of injury. He could centre any of the four lines on a temporary basis. He has also been a vocal leader in the dressing room wearing the A which he shared with the now departed Ference. So chances are Kelly will get the chance to play wing on the 3rd line hoping to bounce back with a full training camp and new line mates in the coming year. And besides the Bruins are having enough trouble determining one additional legitimate 3rd line player without needing two.

Kelly is one of those good guys you want to see succeed so we wish him all the best. If he can contribute his career average of 15 goals while again bringing leadership and effective penalty killing, he, and the Bruins, will have had a successful season.

Open Letter To The NHL Competition Committee

Every year the NHL Competition Committee meets to look at ways to improve the game. According to the NHL this year the recommendations include the mandatory use of visors for all players entering the NHL beginning in the 2013-14 season, and the use of hybrid icing in the 2013 preseason. Also all double-minor penalties for high-sticking will be subject to video review. The League will eliminate the attainable pass, which gave linesmen the discretion to wave off icing infractions on attempted passes that are deemed to be attainable. With the new standard, there must be contact with the stick. And beginning next season, the NHL would use nets that are 4 inches shallower. Nets will remain six feet wide by four feet tall, but they will be 40 inches in depth, down from 44 inches.

But I have an idea I think the Competition Committee should consider...Substitutions.

With a 22 man roster, currently teams play with 12 forwards, 6 defensemen and a goalie. A back-up goalie is dressed and ready on the bench in case of injury or poor performance by the starting goalie. Most often an additional forward and defenseman will take part in the warm-up but then being a healthy scratch will watch the game from the press box.

My suggestion would be to allow each team to name one forward and one defenseman on their line-up cards as substitutes. These designated substitutes would remain ready in the dressing rooms.

If a player was injured the substitute could be brought into the game to replace the injured player. Once a player is substituted for he can not return to the game. One, this would not give a team an advantage if they injured the opposing team player and second, it would deter injured players (such as mild concussions) from wanting to return to the ice so their team is not down a man. Non-injury related substitutions could perhaps be allowed at the start of a period.

Maybe a coach would like to bring in a more offensively minded defenseman if they are down a goal or bring in a defensive specialist forward to help preserve that one-goal lead. There are many strategies that could be developed and the 21st and 22nd man on the roster become even more important. And wouldn't the analysts and fans have a great time second guessing the coaches and their use of substitutions.

Now substitutions would not be allowed for players who leave the game because of an assessed penalty.

There would be no additional cost to the teams. The fans see a better product. And injuries will have less effect on the game outcome. It increases safety for the players. And the 22 man roster gets more playing time. Coaches can send messages to non-performing players through more than just benching during the game. The substitution will become a strategic part of the game. For the teams, coaches, players, fans, broadcasters...this is a win, win, win, win, win.

It is done in baseball, football and soccer. Why not hockey? As a fan I would be much more interested in who are the 21st and 22nd man on the roster rather than shallower nets and hybrid icing.

Boston Bruins 2013-2014: Caron's Position Assured

OK, so the Bruins traded Seguin for Eriksson and signed Iginla as a free agent. The top 6 forward positions are locked. The more-than-effective forth line is intact. Soderberg was brought over to play and Kelly is a nice 5th centre to have around in case of injury (he could centre any of the four lines on a temporary basis). The defence returns 4 veterans and has 3 young players to add into that mix... to be determined...who is the 7th D. Starting goaltending is a lock and the back-up will be a two man race between Svedberg and Johnson.

In desperation for something to write about most Bruins writers want to feebly analyse who will be the third line winger to play with Soderberg and Kelly. So I will do the same. The candidates have been:

Anthony Camara...my personal favourite having seen him play in the OHL but he needs a least a year in the AHL

Ryan Spooner...a centreman who would best be left to develop in the AHL and be the first call-up in case of a centre injury

Jared Knight...who missed most of last year with injury and needs that year of AHL experience but having seen him play in the OHL he will be a good player

(...someday Camara-Spooner-Knight will be a great line for the Bruins)

Smith or Fraser...acquired from Dallas in the Seguin trade...both could have potential but if they could not crack the Dallas line-up and deliver...are they ready to play in Boston...best for them to start the year in Providence

Daniel Paille...may have earned a shot to play on the 3rd line based on his excellent playoff experience but that only changes the discussion to a slight shift of focus to who will play on the 4th line wing...the candidates are the same

Torey Krug...is my out-of-the-box-thinking candidate I wrote about in a previous article but whether the Bruins would try to convert him to a forward is not likely...but I like the idea.

So that leaves a number of very inexperienced Providence candidates or tried-them-already candidates.

Which brings us to Jordan Caron. Caron seems to be the front runner in most peoples view based on his previous experience with the big club. In 2010-11 Caron played 23 games, had 3 goals, 7 points and was a plus 3...in 2011-12 he played 48 games with 7 goals, 15 points and was a plus 0...in 2012-13 he played only 17 games scoring 1 goal, had 3 points and was a plus 1. Caron signed a one-way deal in the off season for less money than he made the previous year. Caron may be assured of a position with the club this year but as the 13th forward. He could fill-in on the 3rd or 4th lines on a temporary basis but nothing from his past contributions makes him a lock to even make the team.

So the 3rd line wing position remain a void for now. So the good news is we have something to talk about. We can only hope for someone to have a break-out year and win the position in training camp...or Chiarelli may have some more work to do on the trade front. Also don't be surprised if a veteran unsigned winger gets a try-out in camp.

Boston Bruins 2013-2014: Open Letter To Iginla and Eriksson

Welcome to Boston. There are a couple of things you should know...Bruins fans have expectations and will let you Know if you don't meet them. So as a heads up, if you want to be successful...

Hit Someone...aggressive fore-checking and throwing your body around will make you instantly accepted

Fight Someone...you don't have to win the fight just be willing to stand-up for yourself...and if you fight in the defence of a teammate you are a true Bruin

Go To The Net...we don't care how fast you can skate around the perimeter...crash the net

Score...score, score...now as you know this is the main reason you have been brought here...and if you score on the power play you get the keys to the city!

Play Defensively...You need to have a positive Plus/Minus or we will trade you to the Maple Leafs ...and nobody wants that

Third Line Winger...do you know anyone that could play wing on the third line...please give them a call... we have a terrible time filling that position...unless one of you would like to double-shift

Play Hurt...if you break your leg, finish your shift. Or if you crack your ribs and puncture your lung make sure you are back from the hospital in time for the next game

Now that is what it takes to be a Bruin. So you know what we expect...no misunderstandings...oh, one other thing...

WIN...we want the Cup!

Boston Bruins 2013-2014: Who is the 7th D ?

The Bruins identity has always been built around a strong defence. This identity is about to have a youthful overhaul. Gone is an ageing Ference, partly because of his age, but also because of the lowering salary cap. But any fan could have seen this coming. Chiarelli likes to re-up his core players before they reach their UFA date. Not re-signing Ference early was the writing on the wall for Ference. Is there a message currently being sent regarding Chiarelli's intentions regarding Seidenberg, on the last year of his contract?

The Bruins currently have four veterans returning...Chara, Seidenberg, Boychuk and McQuaid...each ensured of  a rear guard position. That leaves three youthful candidates...Hamilton, Bartkowski and Krug...for the remaining three spots. That was simple. Not quite. Do you really want a young defenseman still learning his trade to be sitting in the press box as a healthy scratch for more than half the games next year. In 2013 the 7th D was used in 28 games of the 48 game schedule. In 2011-2012 the 7th D played 37 games in the full 82 game schedule. Now I did write an article in 2012 suggesting Hamilton and Krug split the 6th and 7th D position for the coming season but I think both have moved past that point.

One solution may be to use one of the youngsters or maybe a veteran D in a trade to solidify the much discussed 3rd line wing position. But this will probably not happen until after training camp when clubs assess their needs going into the season. After all Bartkowski was a part of the ill-fated Iginla non-trade. But Bartkowski is a "Seidenberg" type D and with Seidenberg an UFA after this year the team may best be served in the long run letting Bartkowski develop with the big club as an eventual replacement for Seidenberg who will turn 33 next off season. Bartkowski paired well with Boychuk in the playoffs this past season and only got better with playing time, gaining Julien's confidence.

The answer may become very clear throughout training camp. Was Krug just a flash-in-the-pan? Will his undersize trump his skating ability in the grind of a regular season. Krug's greatest contribution has been his puck moving mobility on the power play. This is a dimension the Bruins have been sorely missing and just in itself may cement Krug's position with the big club. He pairs very well with McQuaid. Any opposing player taking a run at Krug to try to intimidate him will quickly be challenged by his defence partner. This will give Krug the time and space he requires for his game to be effective. As a third D pairing, Krug and McQuaid works well. However, since this is only words on paper let's indulge in some out-of-the-box thinking. Krug, has demonstrated his excellent skating, an ability to put the puck in the net, and a strong defensive ethic. That sounds like the ideal candidate for a third line winger. I could see Krug playing the wing with Soderberg and Kelly. At 22 he is young enough to make the adjustment. He would still be available to play the point on the power play. And if during a game a defenseman was lost due to injury or penalty, Krug could fall back to play defence. It is much easier to juggle 11 forwards than to have to play with 5 D. I like the idea. Hey Claude...

Not withstanding the aforementioned position change for Krug, that seems to leave Hamilton as the 7th D, spending the majority of his time in the press box as he did during the playoffs when Krug and Bartkowski earned the playing time from Julien. Hamilton did play 42 regular season games last year (out of 48) and as a 19-year-old rookie played well enough. Hamilton is seen as the defenseman with the most upside and the future franchise defenseman. A year in the press box will not do him any good. So the dilemma. Hamilton had to play with Boston last year or return to his junior club. Hamilton may benefit from a year with Providence on the top D pairing. Thus he would get maximum playing time and be the first call-up in case of injury.

So who is the 7th D? Don't be surprised if you see a couple unsigned veterans invited to camp for a try-out, such as Wade Redden. Or perhaps a veteran AHL D, such as Kevan Miller (25 years old) or Mike Moore (28 years old) from Providence (both with credible AHL careers), given the chance to show his worth as a possible trade piece with an occasional start. But don't doubt that if there is a long term injury Hamilton will be quickly returned to the big club. 

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Boston Bruins: Xtreme Make-Over Edition – the Defense

It’s that time of year again: the Stanley Cup finals. It has been 1 year since the Bruins won a Cup. Time for change!

 Most of these offseason analyses look at who is a UFA, RFA, or available to trade. So let’s do that and more. Thanks to CapGeek.com for our data. We will break this analysis into three: the goalies; the defense; and, the offense. Last time we decided to sign RFA Rask as our number one and extend Khudobin as our backup. That commits $4 million per year for goalies and leaves Thomas available to trade. Remember this is the Xtreme Make-Over edition. Now: the Defense.

 Good-bye Corvo; good-bye Zanon; and, good-bye Mottau. Nothing worth keeping unless Mottau wants to sign a minor league deal at his current $800,000 for a year as injury back-up.

 The core of the defense has played solid and only Ference at $2.25 million has less than 2 years on his deal. Norris candidate Chara still has 5 years at his $6.9 million salary. His shutdown partner Seidenberg still has 2 years at $3.25 million. Boychuk just got an extension last year so has 3 years left at $3.4 million per.  McQuaid still has 3 years at $1.6 million per.  I’m not advocating any change to this core.

 The only question to resolve is the 6th defensive position although there really is very little issue. Answer: Hamilton.

 That was easy.  Having been named Ontario Hockey League (OHL) defensemen of the year Hamilton will gain nothing by returning to the junior league. And he can’t be sent to Providence, where prospects go to learn how to lose, so the 6 foot 5 inch offensive-minded rookie will have to learn on-the-job. But I have a plan. To ease Hamilton into the Bruins line-up and an 82 game schedule split duties with Krug as the number 7 defenseman. Both are offensive minded. The Bruins like Krug, giving him a chance to play in a couple of games at the end of last season, where he didn’t look particularly out of place. Splitting games between Krug and Hamilton gives each 41 games, closer to their college and junior game totals, and allows each to have some time to watch the game at this level while practicing consistently with the team.  

 That would commit $20.7 million to 7 defensemen. Keeps the strong core. Infuses some needed youth and offense-minded rookies.

 So in summary Thomas is available to trade and Hamilton / Krug fill the 6th / 7th defensive positions. Next we look at the offense.