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Dodged a bullet…

…or did they?  Talking about the Boston Bruins avoiding the Washington Capitals in Round One of the Stanley Cup Playoffs which begin tonight.  You know the same Capital team that had the best record in the NHL…by 7 points.  Seems like a good idea on the surface.

But now they are up against the Ottawa Senators.  A Senator team that had a mere 3 more points than an honestly mediocre Bruin team.  And 20 fewer points than the Capitals.

Should be fine, no?

Problem is, Ottawa took all 4 games against the B’s this year.  Two by 2 goals and Two by 1…so not necessarily blowouts.  But the B’s were swept nonetheless.

Of course, they were swept this season by Washington too, so maybe that doesn’t matter.

In any event, after missing the playoffs the last two years, it is great to see them back in this year.  The team went 18-9 under Bruce Cassidy and showed a little more life after he took over.  They needed every one of those wins/points, as Tampa Bay and the New York Islanders both each finished with only one less point than the B’s and were on the outside looking in.

Say what you want about the situation.  Claude Julien is a very good coach.  But Cassidy got them on a roll.  The coaching change spurred the playoff run.  There simply isn’t any disputing that.  But I’ve ranted about this enough in the past.

Back to the Senators.

Of course the B’s have a better chance against Ottawa than they do against Washington.  But do they really have a chance against anyone this year?

Despite the late season success, the Bruins remain a flawed team.  No secret there.

And now…the injuries.  Torey Krug plays every game this year, then in Game 81 goes down.  Last I saw, he was expected to miss the entire series.  Rookie Brandon Carlo plays all 82 games himself…and goes down himself in that one.  Last I saw, he is definitely missing Game 1 and who knows how much more.  Noel Acciari?  Yeah, you may say he is kind of a bit player.  And he probably is.  But he has been playing well lately and seeing more minutes.  He will be out for Game 1.  Jimmy Hayes, he is…well, who really cares about that stiff…

As for Krug and Carlo, there goes 2 of your 6 regular defensemen.  When your defense is already suspect, that’s a tough pill to swallow.  Say what you want about Krug’s actual defense…and I do…but he is a key part of the power play and obviously provides some offense from the blue line.  Carlo is a kid and has his ups and downs.  But he had a pretty good year for a 20-year-old in my estimation.

That leaves a 40-year-old Zdeno Chara, still relatively effective for the most part, but also playing waaaaaay too many minutes.  Also Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid…two somewhat useful guys, but you don’t need both of them.  And they aren’t exactly stud D-men either.  Rounding things out among the regulars are John-Michael Liles and Colin Miller.  I don’t know if Cassidy has lost confidence with Colin over the last stretch leading to his healthy scratches.  Or if it’s rest.  Or it’s to get Liles some action before the playoffs.  Or for the veteran presence.  But it concerns me.  I’d take Colin over Liles any day of the week.  And Carlo didn’t need rest, so why would Colin?  No matter, they will both be in the lineup it appears.  Not necessarily a good thing.

That leaves one spot open.  Joe Morrow?  Nah.  I’ve been looking on milk cartons for his face.  Makes that Tyler Seguin trade look even better, eh?  The ONE guy you wanted to pan out (since Loui Eriksson is what he is and is now gone anyway, Reilly Smith the same and then they turned him into Jimmy F’n Hayes and Matt Fraser appears to have been out of the league for 2 years), apparently will also be gone over the summer.  Awesome.

The wild card on the back-end?  Last year’s first round pick, Charlie McAvoy.  Since they burned a year on his entry-level contract by signing him right before the playoffs, he will be in uniform tonight.  What to expect?  No clue.  Kid is 19 years old, fresh out of college and has played 4 games in Providence (2 assists).  Has a world of talent everyone tells me, but is he ready?  No idea.  Carlo started the year at 19 years old.  But he played all of last year in Providence.  And played a full year in Boston this year.  Defense is hard, man.  Tall task.  But I guess I’d rather throw him in there than Tommy Cross though.  We will see what happens.

The offense?  Well, no Acciari and Hayes, but Marchand will be back from suspension.  As long as he keeps his stick out of other players’ nuts, he should be a factor.  Should.  You know the rest of the names…David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, David Backes, David Krejci, Ryan Spooner et al.  It’d be nice if Frank Vatrano showed up for this series however.  He hasn’t scored in quite some time it seems.  And if he’s not scoring…

The wild card on offense?  JFK!  Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson.  By the way, that will likely be the ONLY time I spell that name out in its entirety.  What to expect?  Again, no clue.  21-year-old kid, fresh out of college.  His first year of his entry-level deal was burned too, so hopefully he can add something.  Played 8:25 in his one game at the pro level this year.  But…he can’t hurt if they play him on the third line with Spooner.

I haven’t seen any updates…but I’m guessing the lines look something like this:  Marchand-Bergeron-Backes; Stafford-Krejci-Pastrnak; Vatrano-Spooner-Karlsson; Beleskey-Moore-Nash.  Not horrible.  But it’d be nice if a couple of the above woke up.  I have no idea what the F happened to Beleskey.  He doesn’t have to score a ton of goals.  But if he returned to the 2015-16 Beleskey, that wouldn’t be too much to ask, would it?

For the Bruins, the series will come down to how the defense gels and plays in front of Tuukka Rask.  We all know that Tuuks plays better with a better D corps in front of him (what goaltender doesn’t?).  We also know he isn’t the type of goalie who “steals” a lot of games, like his predecessor Tim Thomas used to.  Rask has his moments.  But he is not a 7 million dollar a year goalie.  You’ve heard me say that enough.  As my cohort, The Thinking Frog, likes to say:  “Tuukaa is as soft as puppy poo.”  That about sums it up.  But he has played better after Cassidy called him out a bit.  As long as he doesn’t get the sniffles and has to bail on a game (never rule that out), I expect him to be at least decent in the series.  But if the D is porous with all the player uncertainty, then there is not much he can do about that.

Ottawa may be brutal to watch, with their defensive style and all.  But they can be beat.  Unfortunately, not this time.  The B’s will not get swept.  I say 4-2 Ottawa.  And then keep implementing the supposedly talented kids over the summer…

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Bruins Trade Deadline Ruminating…

Another week, another league trading deadline.  The NHL’s is Wednesday at 3:00 pm.  So we ask the same question:  Will the Bruins do anything?

Kind of a different situation for them than the Celtics.  Where everyone under the sun wanted the C’s to make moves, even a minor one, I am not sure anyone wants the Bruins to make a move at all.

For a couple of reasons:

  1. The team is 7-1 under “interim” head coach Bruce Cassidy.  Why would you mess with any momentum now?
  2. This team does not seem like Stanley Cup Championship timber, so why trade prospects and/or picks for what would probably amount to just rental players for this playoff push?

You can count the Blowhard among the second group.  The team has certainly been playing better under Cassidy.  The momentum is nice.  But if you have a chance to improve your team, especially for a long Cup run, you absolutely have to do it.  So I think that the people who fall under the first group shouldn’t really get hung up on any positive momentum swing.  A team could lose that momentum in a hurry.  Then you are just left with the same players that were fairly average before the coaching change.  Probably not ideal.

The fact remains that this team is not winning a Stanley Cup this year.  Not even with adding one, two or three players at the deadline.  Sure, any goalie can get hot and then a team can roll during playoff season.  Can’t say that hasn’t happened before.  But honestly, even with the new coach and his record, does this team give you any sense they can go on a run like that?

The Bruins waited faaaaaar too long to fire Claude Julien.  That much is absolutely true and we all know that.  Maybe if they did it around New Year’s, we would be talking about adding players for a Cup run.  Maybe this streak under Cassidy is just an aberration and an expected uptick in effort and results in the immediate aftermath of a coaching change.  But perhaps an earlier Julien dismissal would have sparked an earlier run and the Bruins wouldn’t have dug themselves as deep a hole that they did.

Ok, maybe “dug themselves a big hole” is a little hyperbole.  They are 7th in the conference as we speak, which puts them in the playoffs.  But Toronto, the Islanders and other teams behind them are lingering around with about 20 games left.  Pretty tight group at the edge of the playoff race.

So what if they are lulled into this false sense that they can make a run in the playoffs, go out and bring some guys in and then don’t actually make the cut?  Yeah…remember last year?  Lee Stempniak and John-Michael Liles in two separate deals for 4 picks and a minor leaguer combined?  Yuck!  Then not making the playoffs to top it off?

It’s simply not worth it.

So does that make the Bruins sellers?  Not necessarily.

Guys like Ryan Spooner, David Krejci, Colin Miller and even Jimmy Hayes have been a little revitalized with Claude’s departure.  So if perhaps these guys were on the block beforehand as talented veterans that may be available, maybe they aren’t anymore.  Sure, if someone took Hayes off your hands, it wouldn’t necessarily be a big loss.  Same is true for Matt Beleskey, Tim Schaller, Liles, Dominic Moore, Riley Nash and dudes of that ilk.

But no one is taking Beleskey’s contract.  Maybe not even Hayes’.  The rest of those players listed and their types aren’t going to really get you much in return.  Also, you could have a worse fourth line than Schaller/Moore/Nash.  So there is really no sense in dealing them.  Plus, if they do make the playoffs, Liles isn’t horrible as a 7th D-man.  Nor Beleskey as a 13th forward.  May as well ride this thing out for the most part.

The one interesting case involves the Captain, Zdeno Chara.  I personally don’t move him, unless someone absolutely blows the Bruins away.  I still believe that the Bruins defense still needs significant work going forward.  Another reason why I don’t see a long Cup run in their immediate future.  The defense has played pretty well since Cassidy took over.  And we don’t have to even mention that they seem more involved offensively.  But that doesn’t mean all their defensive problems have been solved.  My opinion anyway…

But as for Big Z, he’s obviously not the same dominant player we have known here for years.  Maybe he’s not even a first pairing guy anymore.  He’s 39 years old, what do you expect?!  Sadly, however, he is still at this very point in time probably the Bruins best pure D-man.  And his cap hit for next year is a very reasonable 4 million.  It makes a lot of sense to keep him around and help bring the youngsters like Brandon Carlo and Colin Miller along.  Maybe Rob O’Gara is here next year.  Possibly Matt Grzelcyk.  Perhaps…Charlie McAvoy?  I’d rather have Z here working with them and not Kevan Miller and/or Adam McQuaid (shaking my head and acknowledging that those two may be here as well anyway).

If someone opens the vault, he’s gone.  But I am not sure any team does that.

If Donnie Hockey is smart, he sits this trading deadline out altogether.  But when have any of us called Sweeney smart recently?

Claude is gone…CLAUDE IS GONE!!

Little late to the party on this one as well.  But of course VERY deserving of comment, for sure.  (Kind of) lost in the shuffle during the New England Patriots Super Bowl celebration, Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien was fired…and a week later was tabbed to take over the Atlantic division first place (though Eastern Conference 5th overall) Montreal Canadiens.  Yup, the HATED Canadiens.  Yup, the same Canadiens that fired Claude in 2006.

I’ve written over and over again in this space that it was time for Claude to go.  It had been for quite some time.  Missing the playoffs the last two years is inexcusable.  Especially the way they choked down the stretch both years.  And then being on course for missing the playoffs a third straight year this year.  Just unacceptable.  How could he still have his job after all that?

Not that it has all been his fault.  It has not.  Cam Neely, Don Sweeney and Peter Chiarelli haven’t necessarily given him the best roster in recent years.  Maybe help is on the way with some of Sweeney’s recent draftees.  But we may not know that for a while.

But you know what?  Neely and Chiarelli gave Julien some pretty damn good rosters early in his tenure.  Sure, he won a Stanley Cup.  Just one though.  He had a talented team that should have competed for a Cup many other years as well.  You may say, “he went to another Cup Final”.  I will then tell you that this was all well and good, but in a lockout shortened season not quite the same accomplishment.

People often forget that Julien was probably an OT goal against Montreal in the first round of the Cup year from being fired that year.  And in the year they lost in the Cup final, they also dodged a bullet in the first round with that miracle win against Toronto.  And some other colossal playoff failures:  2008-09, 116 points in regular season, 2nd round loss to Carolina.  2009-10, 3-0 lead in 2nd round against Philadelphia and lost 4 straight to be eliminated.  The loss of David Krejci in Game 4 was certainly big.  But to lose that game and 3 straight after and kind of blame that injury?  Nope.  2011-12, first round loss to Washington (Chiarelli said the players were “tired” from the previous years’ Cup run…ugh).  2013-14, 117 regular season points, 2nd round exit to Montreal.

It all adds up.  Why don’t/didn’t a lot of people see this?

He is a good coach, maybe better than good, but not necessarily great.  And certainly not legendary, as some people (you again Magoon) seem to think he is.

Amazingly enough, as recently as about 5 weeks ago, I was convinced Claude was at least here through the season.  I thought Donnie Hockey was blowing smoke when he told us that he hadn’t ruled out a coaching change.  Apparently he was not.

Figured the contract would keep him here through the year for the most part.  The Jacobs’ don’t like to eat money.  Could they have known Montreal was going to jump in and (apparently) offset some of the dough owed Julien?  Did they know/sense that the Canadiens were sniffing around?  I doubt it, but I guess you never know with these sorts of things.

In any event, Bruce Cassidy is now the head coach.  Logged about a year and a half as a head coach of the Capitals, getting canned during the 2003-04 season.  Had to wait quite a bit for his 2nd head coaching gig…longer than most.  Has tallied almost 900 games as a minor league head coach, including almost 500 since the Capitals role.  Spent the last 5 years in Providence.  Has had some regular season success, but not a ton in the playoffs.  Supposedly has a good reputation with young players.   Seems to have been groomed to be the next Boston head coach, though the title is still interim at the moment.  Hopefully the rep with young players is true.  And that it means he will implement them in faster than Claude.  I will say this for Claude, having Cassidy on the bench with him this year with the feeling that Bruce was “the next guy” couldn’t have been a warm and fuzzy feeling for Julien.  I know I wouldn’t have been excited about it.

So after all of the above, I personally am not buying the “interim” thing.  I think Cassidy will officially be the next head coach.  Unless of course they tank horrendously down the stretch.

But is he the answer?  I have no idea.  Does the fact that Cassidy is 3-0 since taking over and that Julien is 0-1 in Montreal mean anything?  I think it probably means squat.  Though I would definitely expect a better effort from a team in the immediate aftermath of their coach just being fired.  I know I have seen that out of the B’s in their three games.  Having not seen the Montreal game Saturday night, I can’t really completely comment on their effort.  But they lost to an average at best Winnipeg team at home.  So I would guess that is not a positive.

I will say that the offensive “game plan” is certainly more aggressive.  The D corps scored 18 goals in the first 55 games.  They have 4 in the last 3.  This is the most noticeable difference to me…the D-men are waaaaaaay more involved offensively.  Now, this could certainly lead to goals being given up in bunches at the other end because of their (over)aggressiveness.  But hey, they have an “All-Star” goalie in Tuukka Rask, so everything should be fine, right?  Ok, maybe not.

Either way, this is great to see.  14 goals in 3 games overall?  I like that too.  Small sample size of course.  But after watching Claude’s system for years, even the 3 game stretch is refreshing.  I eventually accepted Claude’s system, since they did win that Cup and were competitive and playoff-bound most years.  But it doesn’t mean I loved it.

Cassidy’s system may not work long-term.  This may just be the coaching change wakeup call.  But maybe some of these forwards can showcase their talents more now.  Maybe this system works with a lot of the youngsters on the way.  Who knows?

Time will tell.  Cassidy hasn’t changed the personnel really.  Anton Khudobin is back.  I like it.  Zane McIntyre and Malcolm Subban are simply not ready to play in the NHL and may never be.  Khudobin has been brutal this year, but has also been hurt and buried when healthy.  Maybe the stint in Providence got his head back on straight and Bruce actually gives him some time down the stretch to keep him sharp.  Peter Cehlarik is the only new body among the skaters.  Impressed by him thus far…along with the line of Cehlarik/Krejci/David Pastrnak.  But again, only 3 games.  He played Zdeno Chara over 26 minutes in the last game…still entirely too much.  Hasn’t appeared to change much ice time overall among the players.

So again…we will see.  But there have been some encouraging signs for sure.

Nice 4 game West Coast trip starting tonight that may shed some more light on the situation.  San Jose and Anaheim seem to be tough foes.  Los Angeles and Dallas perhaps not…but LA is the 2nd night of a back to back.  So maybe.

Definitely intriguing to see how they play the season out, starting with the trading deadline.  There are 24 games left.  I have no doubt that the Jacobs clan would love at least one round of playoff gates.  So perhaps we don’t see much player change until the offseason.  Especially the integration of many more youngsters.  I don’t think Sweeney will overpay for pieces to prepare for what he thinks will be a long playoff run at the deadline.  But I also don’t think he will deal major pieces away over the next couple of weeks either.  It’ll be interesting to see how they balance things the remainder of this season.

But hopefully they will be at least on a better track.  And certainly more entertaining to watch…

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