Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Boston Bruins Preview 2009-2010

May 11, 1972.

The Boston Bruins, with a 3-2 lead over the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Final, sojourned to Madison Square Garden to clinch their second championship in three seasons. Bobby Orr, the greatest defenseman to ever put on a uniform, scored a goal and added an assist. Franchise legend Gerry Cheevers shut out the Rangers, and the Big Bad Bruins won 3-0, capturing the Stanley Cup.

That's the last time the Bruins touched Lord Stanley’s Cup. This was the same year Richard Nixon was elected president for a second time, tragedy marred the Munich Olympics, and the Rolling Stones released Exile on Main St. If it feels like a long time ago, that’s because, well, it was a long time ago.

The Bruins have lost in the Stanley Cup Final five times since 1972, once to the Broad Street Bullies, twice to the dynastic Canadiens and twice to the dynastic Oilers. They’ve finished the regular season with over 100 points three times this decade, but last season’s second round defeat at the hands of Carolina marked their furthest advancement of the decade as well.

It’ll be 38 Cup-less years come this May. But, for the first time since Cam Neely and Raymond Bourque made Causeway Street buzz, there’s something different in the air surrounding this franchise. It’s the feeling of hope, the feeling of having a chance, and the feeling that the Stanley Cup drought won’t live to be 39.

The offseason of tumult is over. The Walker goal and Tim Thomas’ sprint off the ice are distant memories. None of that matters now. After a strong preseason, the Bruins will open up Thursday night in front of a sold out TD Bank Garden against one of the league’s best squads, the Washington Capitals.

The Bruins of 2009-2010 will be deep. They’ll be well-rounded. They’ll be out for revenge. They’ll play smart. They’ll play tough. They’ll be well-coached. They’ll prey on weaker teams. They’ll give the best teams fits. They’ll not be rolling over for anyone.

The Bruins of 2009-2010 will be the best team in the NHL. Better than Pittsburgh. Better than Washington. Better than Detroit. Better than San Jose. They will win the Eastern Conference. They will win the Stanley Cup for the first time in 38 years.

I’m going to tell you why.


(LW) - 17 Milan Lucic (C) - 91 Marc Savard (RW) - 16 Marco Sturm

(LW) - 26 Blake Wheeler (C) - 46 David Krejci (RW) - 73 Michael Ryder

The only difference here is Sturm taking the place of Phil Kessel on the top line. I know I’ve used a lot of negative words here on Sturm, as recently as last week. But I want to believe that he can still contribute at a high level. Is he going to score 36 goals just as a result of playing with Savard? It’s doubtful. But he did score 27 goals in each of his last two full seasons. He doesn’t have to replace Kessel’s production. He just has to be part of the replacement, and stay healthy.

Savard is about to enter his walk year, and I’m ready to watch him explode for a career season. He scored 88 points last year, and the century mark is definitely within reach. Savard feels slighted after not being invited to participate in Team Canada’s Olympic training camp. Every time he takes the ice this year, Savard will want to prove to Steve Yzerman and Mike Babcock that they made a terrible mistake. Between that and his contract year, Savard will be one of the best centers in the East.

And if you decide to mess with either Savard or Sturm, you’ll have to face the wrath of Milan Lucic. Just ask Chris Neil. The Legend of Looch grows by the second. At 21, he’s now the seminal young star of the Bruins with Kessel off to Toronto. He’ll look to improve on his 42 points from last year, and continue his development as one of the truly dynamic power forwards in today’s NHL. Bruins fans love Lucic. By the end of this year, the entire town will love him. He’ll be paid handsomely as an RFA next summer. ’09-’10 will be remembered as the season the Boston Bruins became Milan Lucic’s team.

David Krejci appears ready to play in Thursday’s opener, which is more than welcome news following offseason hip surgery and no participation in preseason games. It speaks volumes that Krejci was the first player the B’s worked to keep in a tough offseason. It also speaks volumes about Krejci that he was willing to take less to stay. The best thing about Krejci is that his finest years are still to come.

The beneficiaries of Krejci’s playmaking talents will once again be Wheeler and Ryder. There was a stretch in November and December where this line was simply unstoppable. Both Krejci and Wheeler declined a bit in production down the stretch, in particular Wheeler. The young, sizable winger added 15 pounds of bulk, and he expects to be able to keep a high level of play all year. Like Lucic, he’ll be looking to improve from the 40-point range. Oh, and adding a little toughness might not be such a bad idea, either.

Michael Ryder must be in love with Claude Julien. Something about Julien’s style brings out the very best in Ryder. A year after potting just 14 goals during his last year with Montreal, he returned to his former junior and Canadiens coach and scored 27 goals including 10 on the power play. He’s a true veteran sniper, a fantastic character guy in the room, and someone that really grew on me last year.

These top two lines should be amongst the best and most productive in the league. In the Eastern Conference, they’ll only be rivaled by Washington and Philadelphia. What’s impressive about these six forwards is that they’re all complete players, as evidenced by their plus/minus numbers from last season.



David Krejci

37 (1st in NHL)

Blake Wheeler

36 (2nd in NHL)

Michael Ryder


Marc Savard


Milan Lucic


Marco Sturm (19 games)



(LW) - 28 Mark Recchi (C) - 37 Patrice Bergeron (RW) -12 Chuck Kobasew

(LW) - 61 Byron Bitz (C) - 27 Steve Begin (RW) - 22 Shawn Thornton

Fact: The Bruins’ third line is better than the second line of 80 percent of NHL teams. Fact: The Bruins’ third line is going to be even better this year.

That’s because they’ll be getting full years out of both Recchi and Bergeron. Recchi is 41, and enjoyed his time with the B’s last year enough that he took a pay cut to return. A few days ago NESN was showing a classic Bruins/Penguins game from the 1991 Wales Conference Final and there was a young Recchi, scoring a key goal for the Pens in the old Garden. (That goal comes about three minutes into this video, but check out the whole thing. There’s some great goals by Neely, Bourque, Mario Lemieux, some horrendous hairdos, and, of course, the glory of Mike Milbury). Recchi has much less hair, much less speed, but still has the desire to win a third Stanley Cup.

As for Bergeron, it finally appears the concussion issues are behind him, and he’s ready to go back to the player he was from 2005 to 2007 (143 points in 158 games). With Krejci not expected to miss any time because of his hip surgery, the pressure on Bergeron will not be as significant as a result. It’s hard to believe Bergeron is only 24, and still hopefully has many great years ahead.

You have to have players like Chuck Kobasew if you want to win the Cup. At different times during the second half last year, the grit and guile of this team was questioned, but Kobasew was the one guy that gave 110 percent effort on every shift. I’ve made a lot about Kobasew’s ability to play in the postseason through two broken ribs, but that’s really all you need to know about him. If you want to see the living personification of what a hockey player should be, look no further than No. 12.

Byron Bitz, a Cornell man, is pretty close to Kobasew in terms of effort, and this will be his first full year in the NHL. Bitz has terrific hands and some fine moves around the net. Steve Begin comes over from Montreal to provide some fight along with Garden favorite Shawn Thornton, who proved last year that he’s a lot more than a goon. The B’s are also going to carry Vladimir Sobotka and he could start Thursday night if Begin’s groin is acting up. This fourth line will be tough, provide energy and might surprise teams with some scoring touch. I predict Bitzy scores 15 goals this year.


33 Zdeno Chara – 53 Derek Morris

6 Dennis Wideman – 21 Andrew Ference

45 Mark Stuart – 48 Matt Hunwick

Anyone who said Mike Green deserved to win the Norris Trophy last year over Chara because he scored 31 goals had to be kidding. Chara was the most indispensible player on the East’s best team. There was nothing he didn’t do well last year, whether it was getting the puck to his best forwards on the power play, shutting down the best scorers in the league, killing off five-on-threes all by himself, shooting the daylights out of the puck, or destroying opposing goons with his ridiculous fighting style. Can he repeat his performance this year? The odds are stacked against him. But he has more help this time around.

Gone is Aaron Ward, a great veteran with a stay-at-home style, replaced by a more mobile veteran in Derek Morris. It’s a different style for Chara to get used to, but Morris creates many more opportunities from an offensive perspective. He’s a leader that’s been around the league for a long time, and he’s been a perfect with Boston so far.

I hate to put too much pressure on these guys, but the success of the Bruins’ defense this year is mostly dependent on how Wideman and Ference play. Wideman scored 50 points last year and was a phenomenal plus-32, but his production faded in the second half. Ference had surgery on his pesky groin, and it’s expected he should be good to go for a full season. When he’s not busy pissing off old Bruins, Ference is a talented guy, but I’m not sure he’s a top-four defenseman on a Cup-caliber team. These guys have an awful lot to prove in my opinion, but they’re both young and both up to the task.

Mark Stuart played well in the postseason this past spring, and progressed significantly during the year. It appears he’ll be paired with Matt Hunwick, the spleen-less wonder with a newly-minted contract. His 27 points last year were actually amongst the best for NHL rookie defensemen, so he should be even better and will see time on the power play. He was also pretty versatile last year, playing some games at forward.

Johnny Boychuk, a 25-year-old scoring specialist, will open the year as the seventh guy. From top to bottom, I’m confident the B’s will have great defense once again. Switching out Ward for the younger, dynamic Morris won’t hurt a blue line crew that allowed the fewest goals in the NHL just a year ago.


35 Tim Thomas - 40 Tuukka Rask

The Tim Thomas story is one that you’ll likely hear a lot more about come Olympic time, when hopefully Timmy will be the starter leading the Red, White and Blue to a medal of some hue. Four years as a starter at UVM, several minor league stints all across North America, professional stints in Finland and Sweden, finally making his NHL debut with the B’s at age 28, then year after year of inconsistency and shuttling back and forth to Providence. Hell, even last year it seemed he’d have to share time with Manny Fernandez.

Fernandez got hurt, and Timmy took advantage. The numbers speak for themselves: 36-11-7, 2.10 GAA, .933 SV% and 5 SHO. He took home the Vezina Trophy and a $20 million contract for his efforts. Sure, the Walker goal looms large for Timmy more than anyone else. There’s plenty of questions about whether his wide-open, Brodeur-esque style is conducive to winning the Stanley Cup. I say yes. Umm, hasn’t Brodeur won three Cups? I don’t see it being a problem. Will Timmy be as good as he was last season? That’s an awful lot to ask. I’m doubtful he’ll be as good, but he doesn’t necessarily have to be. He can be close, and the B’s will be in just as solid of a position.

Behind him is Rask, the young phenom whose time to play in the NHL has come. I’d feel very confident going forward with the 22-year-old Finn should something happen to the 35-year-old Thomas. Rask was terrific in last year in preseason, in Providence, in his one NHL appearance shutting out the Rangers, and again this preseason. I’m stoked to see what kind of NHL goalie he’ll become. As an RFA after this year, he could be dangled as a trade chip.

Goaltending is the biggest gamble in this game. When you feel confident about your goaltending, that’s half the battle. I’m happy that goaltending is an area on the Bruins I scarcely have to worry about.


Julien was honored last season as the NHL’s best coach with the Jack Adams Award, an honor he certainly deserved. The Bruins, after finishing 8th and exiting following an epic first round tilt with the Dirty Habs in ’07-’08, weren’t expected to be one of the top teams in the East this past season. I remember just being excited about them potentially having home-ice in a first round series. Expectations were exceeded throughout the regular season.

The question now is whether Julien can guide his troops through a season where expectations are high. The target will be on their backs after so much success last year, and people like me believe they should be the league’s best team. Julien is a strong motivator who stresses defense and complete play, so I personally don’t expect a letdown from these guys. The way last season ended should be motivation enough for the many returning warriors.

Peter Chiarelli has minimal cap room but has five of the first 60 picks in next year’s draft, which is expected to be much deeper than this year’s draft. I mentioned Ilya Kovalchuk in my NHL preview last week. He’s likely to be the top name available at the deadline if he doesn’t come to an agreement with the Thrashers before then. It’s possible the B’s won’t need someone like Kovalchuk, and based on what I’ve gone over here, perhaps adding a big defenseman will be more important. It’s hard to predict that now.

OK, time to wrap this up. It’s been a tough summer, dealing with the hurt from how last season ended. I don’t think I’m crazy in believing the B’s can win the Cup this year with the complete, strong team they have. They just have to get it done. Thirty-eight years will not become 39. It starts Thursday.

Expect some live-tweeting action as the Bruins look to embarrass Alexander Ovechkin and the rest of the Capitals. See you then.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Useless Predictions: NHL '09-'10 Preview

With each passing day, with each meaningless preseason goal and fight, we near the dawn of a new NHL season. It'll be my first as a hockey blogger and full-fledged reborn puckhead, and after the Patriots' miserable performance on Sunday I couldn't be more excited for the Bruins and the rest of the NHL to return.

So allow me to offer some ill-advised, completely useless predictions for the upcoming season. Lots of things will happen between now and when the Stanley Cup is hoisted next June, so don't be surprised if I'm totally wrong on so much of what I'm about to say. It will at least be fun to look back and see how much of an idiot I am when that time comes. Here we go:


Atlantic Division:
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
These Penguins will be very similar to the team that won the Cup last spring, with some minor losses on defense. It may be forgotten now, but the Penguins were plagued by inconsistency during last season and it wasn't until a coaching change that things began to turn around. More consistency this year will be achieved if Marc-Andre Fleury can channel his SCF Game 6 and 7 supremacy into an entire season. I wouldn't bet on that, but Pittsburgh could be an even better team this year.

2. Philadelphia Flyers
I badly want to like this Flyers team: Jeff Carter and Mike Richards are two of the best all-around players in the league; Scott Hartnell mixing scoring and toughness; the potential of a Riley Cote-Ian Laperriere-Dan Carcillo "Let Me Hand You Your Own Ass" line (591 combined PIMs last year); young stars on the rise like Claude Giroux and former UNHer James van Riemsdyk; and the ballsy move to try Ray Emery at goal. But, alas, they have Chris Pronger. Can I root for them as long as he's not on the ice? Please?

3. New Jersey Devils
Was the re-hiring of Jacques Lemaire a cry for help or another genius stroke for Lou Lamoriello? We're going to find out this year, and it won't be easy. The Devils lost a lot and didn't really gain much, with Brian Gionta and several other vets jumping ship. Patrik Elias is already hurt, but steady production should again come from Zach Parise (45 goals last year) and Travis Zajac (42 assists). Martin Brodeur needs to prove at 37 that he can withstand a full season and take New Jersey deep in the playoffs (he hasn't done the latter in several years).

4. New York Rangers
I have the Rangers barely squeaking into the playoffs, but not because of anything they did special this offseason. They trade perennial albatross Scott Gomez to the Canadiens for some solid young pieces, but then immediately replace him with the brittle Marian Gaborik for a similarly huge cap hit. Win some, lose some. At least with John Tortorella and Sean Avery around, the Rangers won't be too far removed from the headlines. It'll probably be more interesting than anything actually happening on the ice.

5. New York Islanders
It's probably not a great sign for the Isles and Rick DiPietro that they had to sign both Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron this offseason as insurance. Fifteen-year contracts should probably be avoided at all costs in this league. The #1 overall pick in this year's draft, John Tavares, ought to be relatively close to the NHL mid-season. Otherwise, there's no reason to care about this team.

Northeast Division:
1. Boston Bruins
My B's preview will be coming at some point before the Oct. 1 opener. Until then, I'll reserve extended comment on the team, but I'll break some suspense right now. I have the Bruins as the East's #1 seed, and yes, winning the Stanley Cup next spring. Shocking, I know.

2. Buffalo Sabres
Lindy Ruff's crew missed the playoffs for a second straight year in '08-'09, so I don't expect the third time to be a charm. It might be difficult with Ryan Miller expected to be a major part of Team USA's chances at the Olympics. Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Derek Roy are part of a group of excellent forwards that should lead the Sabres back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. People in Buffalo need something to cheer about, right?

3. Montreal Canadiens
After the debacle that was the Canadiens' July 1, the Habs rounded out their extreme makeover with the likes of character forward Travis Moen and veteran defenseman Paul Mara, amongst others. But it's hard for me to believe that such wholesale changes will lead to success this year in Montreal. The stink from last season won't be going away anytime soon. I have the Habs missing the playoffs this year. Too much change, too much uncertainty, too much pressure, too much Bob Gainey.

4. Ottawa Senators
The Dany Heatley saga is over, and in his place will be Milan Michalek and someone I think is named Jonathan Cheechoo but may actually be this guy instead. They also added Alex Kovalev, and they need to hope he actually shows up all the time unlike last year during the putrid Montreal season. The Sens are banking a lot on Pascal Leclaire this year in a town known for ripping underachieving goalies to pieces. I'm not sure it's going to end well.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs
Adding Phil Kessel to the Truculent Bunch isn't going to make the Leafs good for this year. Kessel, who won't even play until November anyway, is the only scoring threat on the entire team and nobody on the roster jumps out as a potential center to feed him the puck like Marc Savard. Brian Burke added a lot of meat to this team's defense, so at the very least if they can't score goals they won't give up as many.

Southeast Division
1. Washington Capitals
Scoring will not be an issue with these Capitals, what with prolific scorers Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, Mike Green and new additions Mike Knuble and Brendan Morrison. The presence between the pipes could become an issue, with Jose Theodore reclaiming the job he lost to Simeon Varlamov during the playoffs. Theodore is one of the most embattled goalies of his generation, and it's hard to believe he actually won a Hart Trophy once. If their goaltending rounds into form, the Caps will be hard to beat.

2. Carolina Hurricanes
Fuck off.

3. Florida Panthers
Sure, it's been rough for the Panthers through their relatively short history. For much of last year it seemed like they at least had a shot at getting in the postseason, and finished tied for the 8th spot but lost out on tiebreakers to the Canadiens. I'm personally grateful since beating the Panthers in the opening round wouldn't have been as sweet. I'm not sure what to expect this year for Florida, their first in several without Jay Bouwmeester. Scott Clemmensen should provide some stability in net.

4. Atlanta Thrashers
It's been pretty funny to watch the Thrashers try to convince Ilya Kovalchuk to stay through any move short of actually extending his contract. They sign his countryman Nik Antropov and ran very hard at another Russian Nikolai Zherdev. They added mobile defender Pavel Kubina to get him the puck. I'm not sure it's going to matter, and Kovalchuk could be available in a trade this season. Considering the pieces the Bruins acquired recently, I'd die to see Kovalchuk in Black and Gold. Make it happen, Chiarelli!

5. Tampa Bay Lightning
How the mighty fall. This franchise won the Cup five years ago? Really? No, I mean, really? When Barry Melrose can't save your team, no one can. Victor Hedman looks like a real #1 defenseman. If that's all Tampa has to look forward too, maybe it's time to think about rooting for the Rays...er...the Bucs...er...nevermind.


Central Division:
1. Detroit Red Wings
A lot has been made about Detroit's offseason losses, and because of the salary cap their relative inability to replace those losses with anyone of substance. A lot has been made about how they can't possibly go deep into the playoffs for a fourth straight year. A lot has been made about potential Team Canada distractions for Mike Babcock, and how so many key players have major Olympic commitments. But these are the Red Wings. Given how last season ended, I don't see a scenario under which this team isn't in it to the very end.

2. Columbus Blue Jackets
Yeah. That just happened. I don't expect the BJs to be too much better than Chicago, maybe only a point or two, but this preview is about taking chances. Why not take one here? Think of Steve Mason as a rock band; after a successful debut, the second album/season is always very tough. The success of Ken Hitchcock's young team will depend on that. Rick Nash is oh-so-close to breaking through as an NHL super-duper star, and I'm excited to see that happen if Columbus can also break through this year.

3. Chicago Blackhawks
Seems like most NHL observers are falling over themselves to anoint the Blackhawks as the NHL's next "it" team after getting to the WCF last year and adding Marian Hossa. Well, turns out Hossa was damaged goods and after All-American Boy Patrick Kane drunkenly punched out a cabbie in Buffalo things don't look so rosy for this crew. Brian Campbell might share that grave with Cheechoo and their goaltending situation is far from settled (or good). Sure, the Hawks will be a fine team. But let's not get too crazy here.

4. St. Louis Blues
I've got the Blues barely making it in the playoffs this year, continuing the good karma from last year's massive mid-season turnaround. Chris Mason came out of the doldrums to establish himself as a #1 goalie, but my man Ty Conklin is right behind should Mason not be up to the task. St. Louis dealt with a ton of injuries last year, so having Paul Kariya and Andy MacDonald fully healthy should make a huge difference this year. It's going to be a tough division race, as you can tell.

5. Nashville Predators
I'd think Nashville would make the playoffs, even in the tough Western Conference, if they were in another division. Pekka Rinne crushed Dan Ellis' soul last year and stole away the starting goaltender job and did not look back. Shea Weber is the most dynamic player on their roster, and it'd be interesting to see what kind of return he could yield on the trade market.

Northwest Division
1. Vancouver Canucks
Expectations will be running high in Vancouver this year after an offseason of high activity. The Canucks retained the services of the Sedins, gave Roberto Luongo a mega-extension, added Mikael Samuelsson for scoring depth and shored up the blue line with Christian Ehrhoff and Mathieu Schneider. With continued growth in production for the likes of Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa and Willie Mitchell, this team can reasonably be expected to be a real Western Conference player until the end.

2. Calgary Flames
Jarome Iginla's crew crashed and burned late last season, losing the division race to the Canucks and getting blown out in the first round by Chicago. Mike Keenan was shown the door, and homeboy Brent Sutter took his place. They added Bouwmeester, who along with Dion Phaneuf should wreak havoc on the power play. Olli Jokinen will try to get on the same page as Iginla, something that did not happen last year. Some other forwards will have to step up in place of Michael Cammalleri.

3. Edmonton Oilers
It'll be a fresh start for Edmonton, who hired veteran bench boss Pat Quinn to reform a team that totally lost its way last year. The Oilers were all set to trade Andrew Cogliano, Dustin Penner and Ladislav Smid to Ottawa for Dany Heatley, but it literally took months for Heatley to finally say no and it pretty much screwed any other offseason plans they may have had. If being dangled as a trade chip doesn't finally motivate Penner, nothing will. The Oilers should benefit from adding Nikolai Khabibulin between the pipes.

4. Minnesota Wild
The Wild will also get a fresh start with a new GM and coach committed to move off the trapping style of longtime coach Lemaire. They replaced the brittle Gaborik with the similarly brittle Martin Havlat. Marty will probably team up with Mikko Koivu and when healthy should be a force to be reckoned with. Niklas Backstrom will be in net for the foreseeable future, but the change away from a defensive system might affect his final statistics this season.

5. Colorado Avalanche
It sucks to see the Avs suck. They've never sucked in their history, but now, they suck. At least they didn't hire Patrick Roy to be their head coach, that would have sucked. Their degree of suckitude will be lessened with a fully healthy Paul Stastny and the emergence of #3 overall pick Matt Duchene. But don't kid yourself, the Avs will suck again. And maybe for a while.

Pacific Division
1. San Jose Sharks
Once again, the Sharks will be the #1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs and win the President's Trophy. But once again, they won't win the Stanley Cup, or even get close to it. Until they break up this team, they never will. It doesn't matter that they've added Heatley, or that Evgeni Nabokov will be playing for a contract. Failure after failure, it doesn't seem like this team or its management gets it. Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Nabokov have the stink of fail all over them. No number of tomato paste baths will remove it.

2. Anaheim Ducks
They've rid themselves of Pronger, which is a good thing. But losing Francois Beauchemin leaves the Ducks pretty thin on the blue line, and they'll need James Wisniewski to play like he did in the postseason. Saku Koivu joins his countryman Teemu Selanne for one last run to the Cup, and new addition Joffrey Lupul will look to make an impact early. The goalie fight is one of the preseason's most intriguing storylines, with Jonas Hiller having the upper hand over proven vet and franchise icon J.S. Giguere.

3. Dallas Stars
So which Marty Turco shows up this year? The dominant force that led Dallas to the WCF in '08 or the horrible facsimile that sucked beyond comprehension for most of last year? If the former shows up, the Stars should contend for a playoff berth all year. If not, they have no chance, because they don't have anyone else on the club that can carry them. The Stars dealt with injuries and Sean Avery last year, but Mike Madano is ancient and I wouldn't trust anyone else to lead them to the promise land.

4. Los Angeles Kings
Beware the Kings. They have an excellent core with Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Justin Williams, and added the veteran presence of Ryan Smyth this summer. Jon Quick has potential to be a franchise goalie, and Rob Scuderi came over from the Penguins to provide depth on the blue line. While I still think they're about a year away from the playoffs, they could create a ruckus and mess up some team's chances, especially down the stretch. If you're not going to the playoffs, why not create a ruckus?

5. Phoenix Coyotes
To call what's going on with the Coyotes a "mess" wouldn't do it justice. The bankrupt franchise is in the process of being sold, with lots of lawyers and courts and businessmen and other crap involved. How it will affect the play on the ice, and attendance at home games, will be a major point of interest. News has just broken that Wayne Gretzky is out, which can only be a good thing. Shane Doan is the only player worth a crap on this team, and I feel pretty bad for him. He deserves a lot better.

Let's wrap up this preview with some useless playoff predictions. Here goes:

Eastern Conference
(1) Bruins beat (8) Rangers
(2) Penguins beat (7) Sabres
(3) Capitals beat (6) Devils
(4) Flyers beat (5) Hurricanes

(1) Bruins beat (4) Flyers
(3) Capitals beat (2) Penguins

(1) Bruins beat (3) Capitals

Western Conference
(1) Sharks beat (8) Blues
(2) Red Wings beat (7) Ducks
(3) Canucks beat (6) Blackhawks
(4) Flames beat (5) Blue Jackets

(4) Flames beat (1) Sharks
(2) Red Wings beat (3) Canucks

(2) Red Wings beat (4) Flames

Stanely Cup Final:
Bruins beat Red Wings in 7 games

I'm sure I've jinxed everyone in this process. Come back soon for my B's preview.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Farewell, Phil

In my last post, I talked about how the Bruins' situation with Phil Kessel was nearing a conclusion. That conclusion came Friday night, when Kessel was dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs for first- and second-round picks in 2010 and a first-rounder in 2011. While the return wasn't shocking, the new contract given to the restricted free agent was: five years, $27 million, and a $5.4 million annual cap hit for the 21-year-old American sniper set to play out the prime of his career in Canada's hockey hotbed.

On a visceral level, the trade itself wasn't surprising; trade talks involving Kessel had been rumored ever since Scott Walker broke our hearts in May. The return is solid and the contract he received is cartoonish, with a cap hit the Bruins would not have touched. I'm happy all sides involved are satisfied, as the B's have eliminated a huge distraction and now have five early 2010 picks to move around next spring. We live in a salary cap era, and Kessel is a casualty. The Bruins truly did the best they could under the circumstances.

But, more than anything, my negative feelings towards this trade were of sadness. I heard so many awesome things about Kessel when he was drafted, that he'd be the sniper the Bruins so lacked since Cam Neely's heyday. The excitement he brought to the ice as a young star was part of my re-attraction to this team. My first B's shirt in years had his name and number on it.

So seeing him go to a division rival was hard, because I couldn't stop thinking about what may have been. This could have worked. At least that's what I want to believe.

The B's reportedly offered Kessel something similar to the four-year, $16 million Jordan Staal signed with the Penguins last year. They probably did not want to offer him more than the $3.75 million average David Krejci signed for, but it was closer to what Florida gave David Booth ($4.25 million average), an older player with a similar skill set.

Kessel wasn't interested. He wanted to be paid like the star he isn't yet. Kessel and his agent, Wade Arnott, were not willing to budge. Peter Chiarelli stuck to his guns in terms of Kessel's value to the Bruins. For that reason, I'm proud of the Bruins for not giving in.

But they could have offered Kessel something closer to his asking price if they'd been able to make one move: trade away 31-year-old winger Marco Sturm and his $3.5 million salary to a team in need of some veteran scoring. I'm not sure about you, but I'd rather have a 21-year-old potentially-elite scorer and hope he'd mature into a positive room presence than a guy 10 years older coming off major knee surgery.

But when Sturm was signed to a multi-year extension in February of 2007, Chiarelli awarded him no-trade protection for reasons beyond comprehension. With rumors raging this summer, Sturm made it very clear he would not waive his NTC. It's not known if Sturm was ever asked to waive his NTC, but apparently it didn't matter.

After improving their defense with Derek Morris and taking care of Matt Hunwick and Byron Bitz, there was $1.7 million remaining under the cap, and they weren't moving anyone else for fear of losing significant production or an important chemistry element. Without Strum's NTC, Kessel could have stayed for something close to $5 million a year. It could have worked.

The other part of his has to do with Kessel himself. Much has been made in recent days about Kessel's problems with Claude Julien and some teammates. But at nearly 22, Kessel could have overcome those problems, and in relatively short order. I refuse to believe his problems with Julien were so bad that they couldn't possibly co-exist.

Did Kessel really want out of Boston that bad? Why would he want to leave a team on the rise, with excellent players, and a burgeoning fanbase the certainly didn't dislike him? I wonder if his desire to leave has been overblown. If it's not, then I'd rather the B's have skaters that want to be there than not. We may never know for sure. I just have a hard time believing things couldn't have changed. It could have worked.

But it didn't. And maybe it's just in my mind that it could have. What I do know is the NHL must address restricted free agency in the next CBA. In a league with such a tight cap, where signing big UFAs is just as vital as bringing along young draftees, the salary structure is completely screwed up when the Bruins cannot afford to keep Kessel because he can command such an exorbitant salary. Just wait until you see what the Blackhawks will have to deal with next summer.

Kessel's $5.4 million cap hit next year will be equal to or greater than the likes of forwards Rick Nash, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Johan Franzen, Marian Hossa, Simon Gagne, Martin Havlat, Shane Doan, Olli Jokinen, Daniel Alfredsson, Martin St. Louis, Jason Pominville, Brian Rolston, and the man that fed Kessel the puck all last year, Marc Savard (FYI: All these players will be UFAs at the end of their current deals). That's quite a list, and should tell you something about the state of affairs in the NHL right now. Kessel's one-dimensional play means he shouldn't be in the same class as most of these guys, but the economics of the league allow him to make more than most of them.

It's not right that Kessel can get away from the team that drafted him with less than three years of total NHL experience and get a raise from $850,000 to $5.4 million from a team desperately in need of scoring. The NHL must change this if teams reliant on young talent want to keep their best players.

But for now, this is the reality. Whether or not the Phil Kessel trade will work out for the Bruins won't be known for years. The 2009-2010 Bruins will still contend for the Stanley Cup, and his 36 goals will be replace by the presence of Sturm and Mark Recchi and the continued growth and development of Milan Lucic and Blake Wheeler.

That question of what might have been will long linger with the name Kessel in Bruins' lore. In another time, this could have worked. Yet, it didn't. So we move on.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Hockey Inches Closer

It's been almost two months since my epic Crosby/Malkin/Ovechkin post that, thanks to Cam, was linked to by Puck Daddy and garnered the most exposure ever to something I've blogged. I appreciate all the feedback and I hope you'll stick around. I haven't written much here because I haven't had much to say about the NHL since July. Summer is a time for baseball and other things that don't involve sitting around and writing.

But the NHL is back, and the B's already have two preseason wins in the books. Two weeks from today, the Bruins will begin their season with an epic match-up in Boston against the Capitals on (sort of) national TV. It's hard to believe it's already time for our favorite ice heroes and villains to lace 'em up for another great year. I'm excited to share my thoughts with you for a full season.

There's been quite a bit of activity recently, none bigger than Dany Heatley finally getting traded to the Sharks in exchange for Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo's rotting, decomposing corpse and a second-round pick. Thus ended a long, arduous summer of back-and-forth between the player, the team and the media about where exactly Heatley wanted to go.

Heatley didn't exactly endear himself to either Ottawa or Edmonton when he refused a trade to the Oilers that probably would have netted the Senators more than what they got from the Sharks. Michalek is an up-and-comer, but Cheechoo is the deadest of dead weight. In fact, as I intimated above, he may actually be dead.

Regardless, the Sharks lost some depth but they couldn't pass up the opportunity to pair Heatley with Joe Thornton, and along with Devin Setoguchi, present one of the most fearsome first lines in the league. Does Heatley get them over the hump and eventually lead them to postseason success? Well, they still have Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Evgeni Nabokov, right? Then the answer is still "no."

There's also been plenty of Phil Kessel talk recently, and it appears the still-unsigned RFA has played his final game in a Bruins' uniform. The Maple Leafs want him, as do the Predators, Rangers, and some mystery teams out west, but there appears to be too much animosity between Kessel's camp and the Bruins' camp for him to appear in the Spoked B again.

I'll have much more to say on Kessel, and his soon-to-be former teammates, next week. I'm planning on doing a full-out Bruins preview early in the week, followed by a preview of the rest of the league later on. I'm not sure how I'm going to structure either of them, or how in-depth my preview of the rest of the league will be. I'll take the weekend to ponder it.

I'll leave you with the first fight video of the year, Byron Bitz taking on Jay Rosehill in last night's contest in Toronto. Sure, Bitzy got his ass beat, but I'm so pumped to see what he'll do in a full season as this team's workhorse fourth-line star. Enjoy. See you next week.