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Puck Talk…

…yup, it’s been pretty much a month since the Boston Bruins were sent packing from the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Who in turn blew a 3-2 game lead and got shut out in Game 7 at home to the Washington Capitals.  Who in turn may very well win the Stanley Cup tonight…or at some point over the next several days.

I suppose none of that matters, other than the B’s being ousted after a pretty good run.  They only made the second round of the playoffs.  But after a season in which they had the second most points in the Eastern Conference, fourth overall across the entire league.

Who saw that one coming?  No one.  If they did they are blowing smoke up your arse.

So of course, the Blowhard has been meaning to write for a while about what was really a successful season under the circumstances.  So why not now, as the NHL season is about to wrap up?  I guess that’s one reason anyway…

We could write about how the season was an unexpected success.  Or how coach Bruce Cassidy changed the teams’ gears and focused more on offense.  Or how so many young guys made contributions out of nowhere.  Or how the team was just more fun to watch in general.

But I suppose enough has been written already about all that stuff.  So we will congratulate them on a good season and look to the future.  One that still will need some more maneuvering to become a true Cup contender…in my eyes anyway.  Many people thought they had a legitimate shot this year.  I am not sure I agreed with that, but what do I know?

So anyway…one of the biggest issues facing this team going forward is all the young talent they appear to have.  That’s what everyone tells me anyway.  I haven’t seen a ton of these kids play, so I have no idea if they can actually survive in the NHL, no less make a huge difference.  But “people in the know” insist the pipeline is deep.  So what do they do now?

They can start by unloading Tuukka Rask!!  Ok, I despise the guy, as we all probably know.  But I suppose that’s not really where they need to start.  I can at least reluctantly acknowledge that.

I think we can all agree that we can say goodbye to all of the Bruins unrestricted free agents.  The team has already said that they are not bringing Brian Gionta back, but did they really need to tell us that?  In any event, the five most notable are:  Reilly Nash, Rick Nash, Tim Schaller, Nick Holden and Anton Khudobin.  Tommy Wingels and Austin Czarnik may whet some others’ appetite, not mine, however.

Reilly had a career year (despite the dud of a finish…but we will blame getting nailed in the face with a puck and the concussion and all) and Anton also played very well, so those guys are probably poised to cash in a little bit…or more than they should get as a 3rd/4th liner and a backup goalie.  Rick didn’t light the world on fire after being traded here (do Donnie Sweeney’s trades all suck or what?  I suppose it just seems that way on the deadline acquisitions anyway…but I digress) and probably wants some more dough as well.  If he takes something like 1 year for 3 mil or 2 years for 5 mil, I’d bring him back.  Fat chance of that happening though.  Schaller and David Pastrnak were the only B’s to play all 82 games…who saw that with Schaller when he was supposed to be like the 13th forward to start the year?  He may actually get some better dough too…but is ultimately replaceable, as is Wingels.  Not sure why Holden didn’t play more in the playoffs…but when you can’t beat out Adam McQuaid, that should tell us everything (another deadline deal by Donnie Hockey…sigh).  Czarnik never got a real chance despite putting up some serious points in Providence.  But he weighs like 90 lbs, so…

Now that we’ve beaten those borderline bums to death, where does that leave the team?  Welp, it leaves the first line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Pastrnak intact (if Marchy can stop doing stupid things and getting suspended by the league, that is).  But it leaves David Krejci with Jake DeBrusk on one side and…who on the other?  David Backes?  Danton Heinen?  Ryan Donato?  No, no and no.  So here’s where we start…a top scoring right winger to play with Krejci.  Me?  I’d consider moving Krejci.  Though he’s at 7.25 mil with a no-movement clause.  So forget that.  I’d also consider dropping Pastrnak down to play with Jake and David.  And fill Pasta’s first line slot with someone like Anders Bjork.  WHAT?!  Well, let’s all remember that this is how the team came out of the gate in 2017.  With those two lines.  Bjork couldn’t stay healthy though.  I’m not opposed to trying it again.

Let’s also put it this way:  How are you going to get a big-time right wing scorer when you will have Marchand, Bergy, Krejci, Pasta, Backes, Torey Krug, Zdeno Chara and Tuuks all over 5 mil next year?  Not to mention that Charlie McAvoy is going to get paid after next season…maybe Brandon Carlo too.  Let’s try not to talk about the 4 mil worth of baggage from the leftover contracts of Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes and Dennis Seidenberg.  But we kind of have to add that in as well.  Plus, it’s not like you can trade any of the first 8 dudes to free up some cap room.  Most have some sort of no movement/no trade clauses (thanks Peter Chiarelli!).  The one that doesn’t (Pasta) is the one you would least likely trade of the eight.  (Yes, Bergeron is a local icon.  But at this stage of their respective careers, you keep Pasta over Patrice.  Sorry.).

So that’s that.

The third line could be something like Backes/Heinen/Donato…in some combination.  And the 4th line can be anyone.  Sean Kuraly (if he returns after hitting restricted free agency).  Noel Acciari will be here.  And then anyone else…Peter Cehlarik…Wingels…Schaller…some other cheap vet.  While kids like Trent Frederic, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (JFK!) and Zach Senyshyn still marinate on the farm.

Defense?  Z, Charlie, Torey, Quaider, Carlo and Kevan Miller return and we will see if Matty Grzelcyk returns with him being a restricted free agent.  Let’s put it this way though:  Don’t expect much change here.

Net?  Tuuks and…some veteran who is down on their luck a bit and comes here trying to rebuild their game on a 25-30 game schedule.  Think Khudobin both times he arrived here.  Or Chad Johnson.  Someone similar.  Zane McIntyre?  Restricted free agent.  I suppose he could be in the mix.  But all of a sudden he is 26 years old in August.  When did that happen?  So much for being a prospect.  Maybe they should have hung on to Malcolm Subban…

My point?  The Bruins SHOULD do more maneuvering to bolster the squads’ chances next season.  But, what CAN they really do?  After reviewing all of the above, I am thinking just about the same team comes back and they keep going with the youth movement.  Maybe add a few low-cost veterans to supplement the youth a bit.  But their hands may be tied more than we think they are.

Now, there is plenty of talent to compete again next year.  For the Cup?  Perhaps.  Depends on how the kids keep developing…or not developing, as the case may be.  Expectations will be much, much, much higher.  How do they deal with that?  Would not shock me if the team pretty much stands pat roster-wise, as noted above, while at the same time ends up taking a step back from their finish this past year.

How do we all feel about that??  Well, in a year the expansion Vegas Golden Knights are currently a mere three wins shy of a Stanley Cup, who the hell knows what anyone will do next season, regardless of what talent they have on their roster?

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Back From The Dead?

Talking about both Boston winter sports teams…Celtics and Bruins.  The simple answer to the question?  Not quite.  But wins on Friday night for both gives them both some hope.  For one of the squads more than the other, but we will get to that.

If I had written this piece before Friday night, I would have entitled it “Life Support?”.  Because it had seemed at that point that the playoffs were over for both teams before they had even really begun.  Prospects were indeed bleak.  One win apiece doesn’t necessarily change that.  But things may be looking up.

The Bruins had the most exciting win of the two.  Took them until double overtime to get it done.  And won by someone who most people had never heard of…Sean Kuraly.  8 regular season games for the B’s with one assist.  2 playoff games with no points.  Averaged less than 10 minutes a game in those 10 contests.  Then in Game 5, back in for a benched Ryan Spooner, over 28 minutes played and 2 goals?  What?!

Of course the B’s should have won in the first overtime, but let’s not even go there.

This series with Ottawa has been a dogfight, no question.  The Senators have outscored the B’s 12-11.  3 OT games out of 5.  A bounce here or there and the B’s could be in the lead actually.

Do I think the win Friday will spur the Bruins to victory in the series?  No, I don’t.  I’m thinking they will actually lose Game 6 Sunday (of course making my Ottawa 4-2 series win prediction come true!).

Why?

I just don’t think the B’s have the horses.  For as much as the Game 5 win will pump their spirits and probably do wonders for them mentally, the physical aspect cannot be ignored.  How much do they have left in the tank?  About 39 hours after the finish of Game 5, they will lace them up for Game 6.  David Krejci, who wasn’t healthy in the first place, left last game early with another injury.  Hard to believe he will suit up for the next one.  Brandon Carlo, Torey Krug and Adam McQuaid presumably are still out.

The defense is the real key here.  It’s amazing they have only allowed 12 goals in the series with some of the characters on the blue line.  Tommy Cross had to play in one game!  Yeah, Ottawa is no offensive juggernaut for sure.  And Tuukka Rask has had his “7 million dollar goalie” moments.  He has not played as well as people will lead you to believe…and admittedly part of that has been because of the rotating defensmen around him.  But he was absolutely fantastic for at least the second half of Game 5 though, no question.

Back to the defense though, Zdeno Chara played over 36 minutes Friday and is averaging almost 30 for the series.  40 years old and still a good player.  But…that’s some serious mileage so far.  Charlie McAvoy?  He may have plenty of juice for Game 6, but can we guarantee he keeps playing the way he has been?  Perhaps the intensity in the NHL playoffs will wear him down a bit?  And Joe Morrow played almost 30 minutes Friday.  Joe Morrow?  Seems he played pretty well, but can we count on that going forward?

For the Bruins, great win in Game 5.  But I see that as the last hurrah.  Unless Brad Marchand finally decides to show up…

On to the Celtics…

Now this one is a different story.  Game 1 disappointment, Game 2 atrocity.  Then a Game 3 rebound on the road.  Though a blown 20 point lead early doesn’t help matters.  Even if they still won by 17.

I don’t love the Celtics’ chances overall for the entire playoffs.  But I do think they come back and win this series.  And no, not just cuz Rajon Rondo is likely done for the series.  Rondo has (had) clearly stepped up his game for this series.  And I didn’t think “National TV Rondo” would show up for the series.  So I was wrong.  Wasn’t the first time and won’t be the last.

The Celtics, despite their flaws, and despite the personal situation Isaiah Thomas is still going through, are simply a better overall team than the Bulls.

Jimmy Butler will get his.  Dwayne Wade will do enough.  Robin Lopez, unfortunately, will probably still do OK against any of the Celtics’ “bigs”.  But can the rest of the Bobby Portis’, Jerian Grant’s and Paul Zipser’s keep doing what they are doing?  Maybe.  But I’m not counting on it.

This Celtic team is not a championship team by any means.  Many moves still have to be made to keep on that path.  We’ve been through all this before.  But they are too good to drop a first round series to a team that barely made the playoffs.  I would have even said that if there was still a healthy Rondo to deal with.

Now that it is 2-1, the series becomes more manageable, even if Game 4 is in Chicago.

I can’t say that I thought inserting Gerald Green into the starting lineup in Game 3 was the perfect answer.  But it didn’t hurt.  Brad Stevens will have to continue to mix and match to find solutions.  And despite his putrid career playoff record, I somehow have faith that he will.  For this round anyway.

I see a C’s win in Game 4, but still a 6-7 game series, probably 7.  It won’t be easy.  But at least winning Game 3 gave them a shot to get back in this thing.  And sure, their 3-point shooting in Game 3 was off the charts.  I hate all the threes, but that’s their game.  I expect more of the same going forward.

In any event, it makes for a good day of Sunday viewing.  Along with the Boston Red Sox trying to actually win a game in Baltimore.  But that’s a story for a different day…

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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