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Hockey Is Starting Already?!

I’m not ready.  Period.

Feels like last season just ended.

And we know how disappointing that end was for Boston Bruins fans.  I suppose we do not need to cover that again.

Speaking of disappointing, the Bruins transaction activity this offseason.  Sure, they re-signed Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo…and I suppose Danton Heinen if you will.  But the team did not sign any new acquisitions…none of any note anyway.

We also know they didn’t lose much in Noel Acciari and Marcus Johansson.  Sure, Marcus would have looked nice on the second line with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk.  But we also knew the B’s were not going to pay him.  Well, because they had to pay Carlo and Chaz.  And they had to keep Tuukka Rask on the roster.  And of course, they NEEDED to retain David Backes…sigh…

But, once again, that is a big part of the problem.  Bringing essentially the same team back after a long championship run is not a recipe for success.  Ask the 2011-12 Bruins themselves.  Or the 2019 Boston Red Sox.

But Team President Cam Neely and General Manager Don Sweeney obviously feel differently.  So there is not much anyone can do about it.

So where do we go from here?  What kind of preview of the 2019-2020 Boston Bruin season can we give, if the same team is basically the same from last year?

Not much.

Similar to the 2011-12 team, I expect a much shorter run from the team this year.  First round playoff loss seems about right.

Why do I say that?  Well, let’s dig a little deeper.

The first line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak remains intact.  You know, the same first line that disappeared in the Stanley Cup Final?  Ok, maybe that is a little unfair.  But while Pasta should continue to grow, how much more upside is there for the other two?  Marchy broke 100 points last year, can he do it again?  Bergy is now 34 years old.

Listen, these guys won’t be the problem.  They will most assuredly enjoy productive regular seasons, barring injury.

But once again, is all the scoring going to be on that line?  Well, you’ve got David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk anchoring the second line.  Krejci enjoyed a bit of a scoring renaissance last season.  But at 33 years old, already banged up even before the season starts and once again, without a decent right winger, what does his season look like?  Hopefully Jake keeps trending up.  But…who is the other winger?

All indications were that Karson Kuhlman would at least start out in that role.  BUT…he was shipped to the minors yesterday.  Some sort of procedural move?  Perhaps.  You find hockey teams doing things like this all the time.  Maybe he suits up tonight in the end.  But as I write this, he is not on the team.

So who is the winger in this case?  Backes?  Brett Ritchie?  Par Lindholm?  Based on the roster as I write, those are the options.

Take your pick.  There are only 12 forwards listed on the current roster.  So they will all play.  Unless there are roster shenanigans, as I said.

Heinen and Charlie Coyle make up the rest of the third line.  Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner the fourth.

I will say that none of those last 3 lines excite me.  Will Coyle play wing on Krejci’s line?  Doubtful.  But I wouldn’t be opposed to it.

So I just wonder who is going to score.  Especially if the old guys get older and the injuries become more prevalent.

Reinforcements in the minors?  I don’t know.  Sweeney had stockpiled the minors with “prospects” for years.  But have (or will) any of them pan out?  So far, just DeBrusk…and I suppose we have to count Heinen.  But there have been many, many more that haven’t (or will not make it).

Peter Cehlarik was once a popular name.  But he just cleared waivers.  That should tell you all you need to know about his prospects.  Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson signed with a Swedish team even before their Cup run was over last season.  Anders Bjork always comes with some hype.  But he was shipped out again.  Kuhlman?  Maybe.  Jack Studnicka?  Pavel Shen?  Samuel Asselin?  Yeah, we will see.

I know one thing:  I am not counting on any of the kids to come up and light things on fire.

So we shall see where the goals come from.

The defense should be solid with all the returnees.  Chaz, Carlo, Torey Krug, Big Z, Matty Grzelcyk…John Moore and Kevan Miller when they are healthy…Connor Clifton…wait, he just got demoted too.  Oh yeah, Stevie Kampfer is back!  And Jeremy Lauzon and Urho Vakakakakakaeienen may soon be ready to contribute too.  I’m not worried about the defense, no matter how old Big Z is.

But you know who I AM worried about?  TUUKS!!!  I am sure you are shocked.  He did play well for most of the postseason.  Speaking of shocking.  Until the end of course.  Which wasn’t shocking.

Ok, enough of that.

Tuuks will be fine…for the regular season.  Splitting time again with Jaroslav Halak will once again “keep him fresh”.  Yup, paying a goalie like a #1 when he can’t play as many games as a true #1 can.

So where does that leave us?  Or the team rather?

Unless some of the youngsters provide some scoring touch.  Or if there is a mid-season acquisition or two that does, I think we are looking at a playoff run, but an early exit.  Tampa Bay is most assuredly looking to redeem themselves after their playoff disaster of a season ago.  Other teams have made improvements.  And the Bruins stood still.

Not good enough.

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….

Changing course…

…into a bit of a national perspective on the “winter” sports scene now, relating it to the local teams.  You know, since the Celtics were eliminated what seems like a month ago…wait, it WAS almost a month ago…and the Bruins were atrocious and missed the playoffs altogether.

Both the NBA and NHL playoffs have been on quite often at this address, even with the local teams missing.  More often than in recent years, for sure.  As they go deeper towards the Finals, one thing has become increasingly clear to me:

The Celtics and the Bruins are far, far, FAR away from their next championship.  In their current states of course.  Things obviously can change with the right move, or series of moves.  I have confidence in the C’s making moves to help get there.  The B’s?  Not so much.

But for right this second?  There really can be no debate here.  The semifinals alone in both sports clearly show us this.

Sure, there has been a few blowouts in both series in the NBA semis.  But that really matters not.

Cleveland is clearly the team to beat in the East, as much as it pains me to say.  I can’t stand that clown, LeFraud James.  For numerous reasons (See:  Game 3 flop, for some more ammo).  Listen, I hate anyone who flops in any sport (See also:  Smart, Marcus).  That’s one of the big reasons I despise soccer as a whole.  But James doesn’t NEED to do that sort of crap.  Let’s move on before I become any more fired up…

Toronto may have been the Cavaliers’ only true competition for the entire year, yet they got smoked at Cleveland in Games 1 and 2.  Sure, the Raptors have been without Jonas Valanciunas (I totally just copied and pasted that name here!) for the whole series thus far.  But although JV may be good for say, 12 points and 10 boards or so…he ain’t Shaq in his prime.  Demar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are very good players.  They have some decent players that surround them.  But you’d have to say the Cavs triumvirate of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love tops the above three.  And then when J.R. Smith is dropping bombs left and right from downtown, along with the rest of their useful players, the Cavs really should obviously be the heavy favorite.

So, Cleveland should take care of Toronto soon enough and head to the finals.  That’s going out on a limb, I know.  The larger point here is that the Celtics not only aren’t ready to compete with the Cavs, but I’m not sure they would compete with the Raptors.  1-3 against Toronto in the regular season, but that in that one win, Lowry did not play.

More importantly, I am watching these games out West and thanking the Good Lord the C’s aren’t getting pummeled by any of those teams.  Specifically, Golden State and Oklahoma City, the West finalists.  Each team has a blowout win on their home floor this series.  But both are clearly head and shoulders above the Celtics.  I know, another news flash.  But games against them would truly be scary…again, in the C’s current state.  So much talent and athleticism.  Cold blooded shooters.  Even against each other, as elite teams, 10 point leads all of a sudden become 25.  Impressive.  Just watching these games in both conferences makes you realize these teams are on a different level than the C’s.  Of course, there are now only four teams left.  They are supposed to be the best.  But still…

As stated above and in previous posts, I do believe Danny Ainge and the Celtics will attempt to make some moves and continue to close the gap between them and the title contenders.  I have written previously that there is no way Kevin Durant will come to Boston.  I still pretty much feel that way.  BUT…what if OKC wins the championship?  Will Durant be more inclined to look elsewhere?  I really have no idea.  But seems like the C’s best bet is to root for OKC over the next few weeks and maybe they become pleasantly surprised.

Moving onto the Stanley Cup playoffs…I do feel that the Bruins’ are obviously a ways away from another title.  Missing the playoffs two years in a row helped me think up this original thought.  But I watch these semifinal games…actually, the playoffs as a whole for the most part…and see just a ton of speed and skill all over the ice.  Crisp passing.  Guys picking corners of the net.  Big saves.  Etc.  Almost none of what you see during Bruins games.  Picking corners?  Haha…if I had a nickel for every B’s shot fired directly into the chest of a goalie…

Claude’s system perhaps?  Yeah, sure.  Always a possibility.  Huge possibility.  But I don’t think it explains it all.  The B’s have too many 3rd and 4th line types, guys that fit Claude’s system, guys that have helped him win in the past.  But the team does have SOME highly skilled players, after all.  And they are still NHL hockey players.  They don’t just forget how to shoot at an open corner of the net because Claude asks them to put more time in down at their own end.

The team just doesn’t have enough of the ELITE offensive players, you know, guys like Phil Kessel and Tyler Seguin (& soon enough, David Pastrnak perhaps?)…guys that could still work in Claude’s system, but perhaps operate with a little more freedom on the offensive end.  And those are some of the players we see playing now.

That all being said, I also find myself being frustrated watching the Eastern Conference, in particular.  Washington finished the regular season with 16 points more than anyone else in the East.  President’s Trophy for best record in the league…by 11 points.  Sure, they have a history of choking in the playoffs.  But wasn’t this year supposed to be different?  In the East, it was them and everyone else.  Then they get booted in the second round and we are watching Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay in the conference finals.

Pittsburgh changed their coach in the middle of the season…to Mike Sullivan.  Mike Sullivan??  Remember that stiff here?!  Tampa had FOUR more points than the B’s in the regular season.  Both teams have switched goalies this series, albeit Tampa due to injury.  But Tampa’s backup has played well and is 3-2.  Tampa has played without superstar Steven Stamkos since Day One of the postseason.  And so on…

What if the B’s just get IN the playoffs?  We’ve seen all of this before.  Quite simply, ANYTHING can happen.  Top seeds lose.  Goalies get hot.  Players score more.  Unheralded guys step up and make a difference.  And all of that.

Makes you wonder still why Claude kept his job.

Now, anything could happen, but I still wouldn’t give them much of a chance against the West.  Though San Jose only had five more points than the B’s…and a losing home record.  And a goalie, Martin Jones, that they actually had as property for a short time (coming from LA as part of the Milan Lucic trade, going to SJ for a first rounder and college kid).  And St. Louis has switched goalies this series as well.  Among other things.  These two teams would still skate circles around the B’s.  Chicago, Dallas, Anaheim and LA would likely have as well.

With the news that Donnie Hockey is discussing things with Loui Eriksson’s agent…well, that is kind of upsetting me.  Didn’t want Claude to stay.  Don’t want Loui here and wanted to get some value for him back at the trade deadline.  I just have zero faith in Bruins management right now.  We’ll see what happens.

One more thought:  With the goalie carousel in these playoffs and teams still doing it with only 4 teams left standing…makes you wonder why you pay 7 mil a year for yours, doesn’t it?

 

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