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Oh So Close…

…so it’s been a little over two weeks.  Have we recovered?

Not particularly.

That will explain the delay in writing about it…or should anyway.

Yup, the Boston Bruins’ loss in the Stanley Cup Final is what we are referring to.

But we won’t spend a lot of time rehashing the past.  No sense in doing a whole lot of that.  With the start of NHL free agency coming up on July 1st, it is about time to focus on the future of the team.

That being said, what a massive, MASSIVE missed opportunity for the organization.  HUMONGOUS.

The road was cleared.  Tampa Bay, perhaps the best regular season team in NHL history, got swept away in the first round.  Washington, the defending Stanley Cup Champions, also ousted in the first round.  Pittsburgh, who always seem to be scary, done in the first round.  Toronto may have been the toughest matchup of them all, and the Bs beat them in the first round.

Out West, Calgary had the second best record in the league and yes, they were dropped in the first round also.  Did San Jose scare you?  They did me.  And the supposedly lesser St. Louis Blues took care of them in the Conference Finals.

So there were the Blues.  A last place team in early January.  That’s all they had to beat.

Then, seemingly true to form in this years’ Cup playoffs, the Blues took home the Cup.

Were there injuries?  Of course!  You don’t play 100 plus games in a season and not get banged up.  Especially after 20 plus games in the grueling playoffs.  But the Blues most assuredly had theirs too.

Cheap shots by the Blues?  Bad refs?  Check.  Check.  But they needed to overcome that.  It’s the Stanley Cup Finals for Chrissakes!!

I sssssoooooo want to pin the entire blame on goalie Tuukka Rask.  But I cannot.  That kind of pains me.  But although he did not play as well in the Finals as he did in the first three rounds, he didn’t exactly have a lot of help.

The first line was invisible.  I know, they were all hurt.  But still.  Injury did not cause Brad Marchand from trying to get off the ice with 8 seconds left in a period for a shift change when his guy then went down and scored.  Or when Marchand had half of an empty net to shoot at to give them an early lead in Game 7 and he fired it right into the goalie.  Or when Joakim Nordstrom just had to lift the puck a few inches over Jordan Binnington’s pad to score into a wide open part of the net and he couldn’t do it.

I could go on, but I won’t.  The Blues were the better team in the series.  Simple as that.

Let’s try to move on…

What are the Bruins going to do in the offseason?  Well, what CAN they do?

I’ll tell you one thing:  Do not expect an all-out pursuit of a marquee free agent, such as the run at John Tavares last year.

They simply don’t have the cap room to do so.  It looks like they have about 12 million in cap room to maneuver.  Can they create more?  Of course!

Although we won’t get into as much detail as we did with each the players on the Boston Celtics’ roster, we will take a look at all the players on the Bruins’ roster as of right now.  We will just do it by positional group instead.  Per usual in these types of exercises, I will give my thoughts on what I think they SHOULD do in each group, as well as what I think they WILL do.

Starting with my favorite:

Goaltenders:  The Bs played all of last year with the two goalies, Tuuks and Jaroslav Halak.  They have a couple of kids in Daniel Vladar and Kyle Keyser, but we don’t care about them.  Why?  Because every time the organization has a “goalie of the future”, they end up elsewhere.  The most recent example will be Zane McIntyre, who has been in the system for like 100 years it feels like, but is now a free agent at age 27.  Good luck Zane!

Well, I think you know what I would do.  I would shop Tuuks as fast as possible, hoping that someone overpays for his Cup run.  With only a modified no-trade clause, this is indeed possible.  Then take Rask’s 7 mil salary and sign another veteran similar to Halak, who makes 2.75 mil.  Then, both your goalies make less than 6 mil combined and you can use the savings in part to acquire another, I don’t know…SCORER?

We also know what will happen.  These two will be between the pipes again next season.  No sense in going much further here now.

Defense:  The Bruins used 12 defensemen last year.  Ok, Jakub Zboril and Urho Vaakanainen only played two games apiece, so really they used 10.  So having some depth here helps, especially with a 42-year-old Zdeno Chara and a tremendously injury prone Kevan Miller still in tow.

Still makes me wonder why they signed journeyman Steven Kampfer to a two year extension though.  Kampfer spent most of the year as the teams’ 8th defenseman and pretty much ended it as the 9th, as Connor Clifton seemed to leapfrog him on the depth chart.  With Zboril and Urho getting closer, along with Jeremy Lauzon (16 NHL games last season) in the mix as well, what the hell did they need Kampfer for?  It’s not like they can send him down to Providence.  He would have to occupy space on the 23 man game day roster every day, even if he doesn’t suit up on the 20 man active roster.

Hmmmmmm…

Are they thinking about moving one of the top 7?  Entirely possible.

The most popular name?  Torey Krug.  Krug makes 5.25 mil in the last year of his deal next season.  Though I would still consider him a “specialist”, in particular, a “power play specialist” because of his physical stature, I will admit he has improved on defense over his career.  But if he wants like 10 mil a year as a free agent, then see ya!!  Some national writers have kind of anointed him as a first pairing d-man.  Really?  But if that is the perception, the team may be better off moving him.

Problem is, Krug has supposedly been quoted that he wants to play in Boston “forever” and that he hopes “something can be worked out soon”.  So what if he takes a hometown discount, similar to what we believe Brad Marchand took when he was up for his current deal?  May be tough to then move him.

I have a second name to throw out:  Brandon Carlo.  He is a restricted free agent, along with Charlie McAvoy.  Chaz was a first rounder and has some offensive upside to boot.  He is largely considered the heir apparent as the franchise defenseman when Z finally at least slides back in the pecking order.  Carlo was a second rounder and is an excellent defenseman.  Really took a step up this past season.  But he is no offensive threat whatsoever.

If the Bs cannot get something done with either before the onset of free agency, are they expecting to match McAvoy’s presumably monster offer from another team and let Carlo walk?  If Carlo wants 7-8 mil a year, I expect that he may be the one to go.

Just a hunch, but something to look out for anyway.  Would at least partly explain the quick re-signing of the veteran Kampfer.  Who could serve as good depth, certainly during the regular season.  All while the kids get more seasoning in the AHL.  Kampfer also can sit for long stretches on the inactive list, while you want the kids at least playing to develop more.

John Moore and Matt Grzelcyk round out the rest of the 12 and I expect they will be going nowhere.

Forwards:  Let’s revisit how the lines went for the majority of the playoffs:

  1.  Marchand/Patrice Bergeron/David Pastrnak
  2.  Jake DeBrusk/David Krejci/David Backes
  3.  Marcus Johansson/Charlie Coyle/Danton Heinen
  4.  Nordstrom/Sean Kuraly/Noel Acciari

Of course, Karson Kuhlman finished up in place of Backes and Chris Wagner kind of split with Acciari before he got hurt.  That was pretty much it for the Cup run.  Several other jamokes played a bit during the year and maybe we will cover them, maybe we won’t.

Of the 14 dudes above, Johansson and Acciari are unrestricted free agents and Heinen is restricted.  Johansson had a 4.6 mil cap hit last season.  I liked his play when healthy, but if that is the area he is looking for in free agency, best of luck to him!  Acciari was a nice 4th line piece, but I imagine that someone will give him something like 3/11 or something silly like that.  Similar to what previous bottom six (three?) players like Riley Nash and Tim Schaller got when they performed well in their roles here.  Good for Noel, but the Bs would be foolish to keep him at that pay rate.  They have enough guys that could step in for cheaper.  Like…Wagner…

As far as I’m concerned Heinen can go too.  But I imagine he will be back.  The team LOVES him.  In their defense, there was some crazy stat I heard during the Finals.  I wish I can remember what exactly, but it was something along the lines of that the opposing team simply did not score any goals when Heinen was on the ice.  There is admittedly some value in that…even though there are 4 other guys on the ice with him…plus the goalie.

The “elephant in the room” here is Backes.  He is completely useless.  But on the books for 6 mil (and a modified no-trade clause) for each of the next two years.  The simple answer is “buyout” as in, BUY HIM THE FK OUT!!!  But General Manager (as in “General Manager of the Year”) Don Sweeney has basically said they will not do that.

My question is…WHY???!!

Yes, I believe they would be stuck with half of Backes’ salary on the books still.  But three mil is better than six mil.  And that three could be used for better purposes.

If he stays, where does he go?  The ninth floor with Kampfer most nights?  Ok, fine.  But that seems like a waste.  Nordstrom/Kuraly/Wagner is a fine enough 4th line.  And I’m not putting him on the 3rd with Coyle and Heinen.  Certainly not back with Krejci.

Ugh…

Maybe they can package Backes and a kid or two and a draft pick or two to an NHL team that needs to hit the salary cap floor.  That way they get rid of the whole salary.  We can hope for that anyway.

In any event, the major need is that top six right wing spot.  I assume you have heard that tune before.  Whether you want to break up that first line or not is your decision.  There has been talk locally of moving Pasta with Krejci and Jake and finding a bigger dude to play with Bergy and Marchy.  Ok, fine.  But you need to pay that guy too.  With what?  After you pay Chaz and some others, there may be nothing left?

Kuhlman?  Maybe.  But that’s a little underwhelming.

Peter Cehlarik (restricted), Anders Bjork, Trent Frederic, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Zack Senyshyn?  Well, JFK retreated back to Sweden before the playoff run even ended, so that is not an option.  Wasn’t a good one anyway…as the rest would appear not to be either.

Move Krejci?  I’d absolutely consider it.  But good luck with that at his 7.25 mil price tag.  And, oh yeah, his FULL no-trade clause.

The solution?  Find that other top six winger somehow and then just mix and match the bottom six.

Easier said than done.  But that is really the only thing I think the Bruins will attempt to do.

And I really don’t think they will be able to get anyone good, seeing they have to spend money on keeping McAvoy and trying to keep Carlo.  Unless they can move Krug, and/or Backes and/or Krejci, it just doesn’t seem realistic.

But I’ve been wrong before…so we will see starting in a few days…

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Stanley Cup Finals…

…so here we are…finally.  Almost anyway.

It’s been a long wait for Boston Bruin fans.  Not in terms of years, since it has only been 6 years since they last appeared in the Finals.  As opposed to the 49 year gap the St. Louis Blues and their fans have endured.

We, of course, are talking in terms of days.  11, to be exact, since the Bruins’ last game against the Carolina Hurricanes.

That’s a long time to be idle.  Sure, it may have helped some guys who were banged up a little bit.  Well, as long as that scrimmage the Bruins had last Thursday didn’t produce any more injuries.  Rumor has it Brad Marchand got dinged up in that one.  But it didn’t appear to be serious…hopefully anyway.

In any event, I find it hard to believe it will help someone like goaltender Tuukka Rask.  As we all know, Rask has been playing unconscious.  Out of his F’ng MIND, actually.  Like…something we have never seen before.  Despite the fact he makes 7 mil a year and should be doing this all the time.  But I digress…

I would think it would be hard for a goalie to stay sharp with that much time off.  Tuuks usually plays better when he gets some rest during the long regular season.  But not after a week and a half off.  Well, I can’t imagine he does anyway.

AND THAT IS WHAT SCARES THE F’NG BEJESUS OUT OF ME!!!

My opinion?  Glad you asked!!!!

The St. Louis Blues are a nice story.  Like last place early January.  Fired their coach.  Brought up a new goalie, never before having played in the NHL.  Nice run along the way.  Blah, blah, blah.

And although the Boston Bruins avoided some heavyweights in the Eastern Conference, especially the Tampa Bay Lightning and their best record in the NHL and kind of…ever…, and the defending champion Washington Capitals, they were a pretty good team start to finish.

And, with my usual disclaimer of having not watched copious amounts of Blues hockey throughout the year, the Bruins do seem to be the better team.

Why?  I don’t know.  Just seems like the Blues are another “Carolina Hurricane” type story.  Underdog going on a nice run, then meeting their match in the Championship Round.

At least I hope it turns out that way anyway.

To me, it all comes down to the goalies.  We have already talked about Tuuks.  Can he keep up his level of play?  I really don’t have the answer to that.  If you told me there would be a 4 day gap instead of an 11 day one, I would have bought it.  I would have felt that in a short gap between series, he would easily have kept his mojo.  But now I am not so sure.

But I am also not so sure on the flip side.  Jordan Binnington played AWESOME in the regular season since the Blues called him up, right around the same time as the teams’ turnaround in early January.  But he hasn’t been quite as airtight in the playoffs.  I suppose that is possible, seeing as he has played several years in the minors, including part of the previous season for the Bruins’ farm team in Providence, on loan from the Blues organization.  But who knows which guy shows up in the Finals?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we can say that about Tuuks too, I know.

So since I have no real riveting analysis to actually add here, I suppose I will cut to the chase…PREDICTION TIME!!

I guessed at the first series for the B’s.  I said Bruins in seven.  Right.  Of course, I was unsure, but let the record speak for itself, however bogus it may sound!  I never put predictions on paper for the next two series.  I would have gone B’s over Columbus in seven and over the Canes in 5.  But I have no proof, so call me a liar, whatever.

This one?  Bruins in six.  I know the recent record is something like the last 3-4 teams with the longer layoff have lost…and it’s like 13 of the last 16 or something like that.  Not good.  And the time off I think invariably hurts Tuukka at least a little…meaning a softie or two along the way…his SPECIALTY!!

But I just feel like the Bruins veterans will not let them ruin this golden opportunity to put one more notch on the belt for guys like Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron.  Even Rask.  And the whole Cinderella thing with the Blues.  And how will the rookie Binnington fare with the pressure?

Once again, just a feeling and a hunch.  With all due respect to a former college roommate, who gifted me a sweet Blues lid back in the day, that we wore the sh$t out of until the thing crumbled.  Thanks Maaaaaan-yeeeeeezzz!!

But your day is not today….

Trouble “Bruin”?

Haha…I crack myself up with these stupid titles every time…

Anyway, the Boston Bruins open their pursuit of Lord Stanley’s Cup this evening.  So what are their chances?

You got me?

Why?

One word:  TUUUUUUUUUUUKKSSSS!!!

You got it.  You know I hate the guy.  But you also know what?  It’s a fact.

Once again, Tuukka Rask crapped his pants down the stretch.  Ok, we will blame the defense some as well.  Too much Steven Kampfer and Connor Clifton are well…too much Steven Kampfer and Connor Clifton.

But Tuuks’ performance was weak nonetheless.  Seemed par for the course compared to late season performances in past years.

And this year he played barely half the schedule.

So what can we expect from Rask in the playoffs?  I know what I expect.  But that may be kind of harsh.

Looking back at his playoff record, he is actually better than I remember.  Well, his actual record isn’t that impressive (35-30).  But his goals against average of 2.25 and save percentage of .924 are solid.

Listen.  My main problem with Rask is that he STEALS relatively few games for the home team.  A 7 million dollar a year goalie needs to steal games and be great.  Not just to make the saves he is supposed to and just be there.  And he doesn’t always make the saves he is supposed to.  How many softies has he given up over the years?  How many times have you heard head coach Bruce Cassidy say postgame “we needed a save there” or “we could have used a save there”?

A lot.

Tim Thomas is a legend in this town because of all the games he stole…and winning the Stanley Cup of course too.  But he stood on his head so many times every year, especially during that Cup run.  You just can’t say that about Rask.

Prove me wrong Tuuks.  For once.  Please.  Though ESPN picked Rask as the worst starting goalie in the playoffs.  So if you can prove them wrong as well Tuuks, it would be much appreciated by many.

So where do I stand on the first round playoff matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs, all things considered?  Welp, I am a homer, so that’s not going to hurt the local squad.

The Bruins were 3-1 against the Leafs this year.  But the regular season means diddly squat now.  Ask the Tampa Bay Lightning.  They had the best regular season record…by far.  Then lost Game 1 last night.  Yeah, I know, it’s a long series and anything can happen.  And they will probably end up winning it.  But let’s remember that the Presidents’ Trophy winner doesn’t always fare well in the hunt for the Cup.  We will deal with that more in the second round if both the Bruins and Lightning advance to square off there.

We also don’t love how some “experts” are picking the Bs to win it all.  I know, they shared the second best record in the league this season.  But still…doesn’t feel right for whatever reason.

The defense worries me for one.  It looks like Kevan Miller is out (again).  And not that John Moore is anything special, he does play a little defense.  But he apparently is still out.  And that means a spot for Clifton or Kampfer…though from all indications it will be Clifton.  We’ve already covered him.

Throw in Torey Krug, who simply cannot play any defense.  Sorry.  And, with all due respect, a 41-year-old Zdeno Chara looking like he is skating in quicksand half the time.  And what have you got?

Huge question mark, that’s what.

As we have said in similar situations in the past, we are not going to tell you we watched a ton of Maple Leaf hockey this season.  But they have plenty of offensive skill, I can tell you that much.

The Bruin offense?  Not too worried about them.  Mostly healthy up front, other than Sean Kuraly.  But since he’s a bottom six guy we won’t fret too much about his absence.

I do love the noise I’m hearing about David Backes possibly being the odd man out tonight.  Give Backes credit for the way he has handled his role, or really, lack of role, this year.  But now is not the time to appease aging veterans.  If it was, Lee Stempniak would be in the lineup.

Good idea to keep the Patrice Bergeron/Brad Marchand/David Pastrnak line together.  And as a 4th group, Noel Acciari/Joakim Nordstrom/Chris Wagner is good enough.

But I love that they are giving Karson Kuhlman that shot on the David Krejci/Jake DeBrusk line.  Or they appear to be anyway.  5 points in 11 games is certainly not Hall of Fame material.  And we saw what happened last year when Ryan Donato came in late season, flashed, then completely disappeared in the playoffs.

But I want to see what the kid can bring.  If it doesn’t work, move on to someone else.

I am also intrigued by the Marcus Johannson/Charlie Coyle/Danton Heinen line.  Not sure how much they have exactly played together.  But I know Johannson and Coyle played together a bit when Marcus came back from his injury.  Seemed to be ok.  Let’s keep looking at that combo too.

I feel like the offense will be ok.  In fact, it may well be a series that features a handful of 6-5 games.

Why?

The way I feel about Rask HAS to be the same way Leaf fans feel about their netminder, Frederik Andersen.  I guess he’s ok, but ok isn’t what anyone wants in the playoffs.

Andersen’s goals against average was 2.77 this season.  Seems a little high in today’s NHL.  Not to mention that his career performance in the playoffs isn’t anything to write home about.  Including a ghastly 3.76 GAA in last years’ playoffs.

Ssssssoooo… that gives me a little comfort.

Prediction?  I don’t know, Boston in seven?  Sounds about right.  Though it could be Toronto in five for all we know.

That’s the beauty of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Exciting for one, but sometimes completely unpredictable for another.

And as we all know a hot goalie can take a team pretty far.  Maybe that can be Tuuks for once?  Though I’m not sure that is something we should be counting on…

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