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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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Smorgasbord…

…lots to catch up on here, let’s start with the Thursday Night Football game and then dive right in:

Miami at Baltimore (-3.5)  

The Dolphins are 4-2 despite scoring only 92 points in 6 games.  They will be going with their backup QB in Matt Moore.  However, Moore may actually be better than the starter, that fraud named Jay Cutler.  Speaking of frauds…Joe Flacco everyone!  Neither team really excites me this year.  Therefore, take the points.

Miami 21, Baltimore 17.

Week (against the spread):  9-6

Week (straight up):  10-5

Season (against the spread): 50-56

Season (straight up): 64-42

Now for the rest of the Boston sports world, in no particular order:

*John Farrell is gone as the manager of the Boston Red Sox.  We have known that for a bit.  And everyone on God’s Green Earth knows how I feel about Farrell.  So no need to expound on any of those thoughts here.  Good riddance.  Buffoonery at every angle.

But…Alex Cora?  Count me among the unimpressed.  Just six years removed from the game, but more importantly, he has no managerial experience whatsoever?  Yeah, I’ve heard he managed the Puerto Rican team in the World Baseball Classic.  But who cares about that?  He was (is) a bench coach for the Houston Astros.  Doesn’t excite me either.

People are raving about him.  Maybe he has great people skills.  And actually can manage.  More importantly, maybe he can straighten out those morons in the clubhouse.  But…how do we really know?

He actually played here from 2006-2008.  Does that help?  Perhaps a little.  He knows what the demands are here in Boston.  Looks like the only player on this roster he actually played with was Dustin Pedroia…and Pedroia took his job.  People describe Pedey and Cora as close.  But I swear I remember Cora being pissed Pedroia took his job.  I don’t know, maybe Cora can also play 2b this upcoming season until Pedroia comes back…as we learned Wednesday that Dustin had knee surgery that will keep him out around seven months.  If the other options are Brock Holt, Deven Marrero and Tzu-Wei Lin, then why not?  I know, there is a whole offseason to find a better temporary 2b option.  But some local jamoke writer actually proposed those three clowns as legit (and probable) options.

Let’s also look at the hiring process.  The only three guys General Manager Dave Dombrowski thought of interviewing were Cora, Ron Gardenhire and Brad Ausmus?  THESE guys were the cream of the crop?  YIKES!

Dombrowski has some work to do on the actual roster and most certainly the clubhouse.  Let’s also see who Cora surrounds himself with on his staff.  But this hiring reminds me of a somewhat similar one for the Sox back in 1992.  A hire that a former college hallmate termed a “franchise manager”.  They had to go get him before someone else swooped him up.  Yup…Butch Hobson.  Ugh…

*The Celtics obviously took a big hit with the Gordon Hayward injury.  Just over five minutes into the season he goes down for the year…what a kick to the junk.

But you know what?  They’ll still be up there fighting for the top seed in the East.  Cleveland will probably treat the regular season as an extended preseason, similar to what they did last year.  There are other competitive teams in the East.  I suppose Milwaukee, Washington and Toronto will be in the upper tier.  But not unbeatable, even without Gordo.

Look, with only 4 of the 16 players on the roster carrying over from last year, there was going to be an adjustment period anyway.  I don’t think anyone thought the C’s were going to win the NBA Finals this year with full health.  Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum appear to have a world of talent (though I am not getting too high about their performance against the lowly Knicks on Tuesday).  But let’s remember they are 21 and 19 years old, respectively.  In fact, 7 of the 16 players are rookies, though admittedly most of those are on the back-end of the roster.

It’s a long season and anything can happen.  Barring any other unforeseen major injury, I’m still excited about watching this team develop.

*I don’t believe Jae Crowder intentionally tried to injure Hayward.  But he certainly had a hair across his arse in the opener.  Al Horford got all worked up at him at one point.  Don’t see Al react like that much.  Anyway Jae, let it go dude.

*Brown certainly looks like a different player this season.  I know summer league means squat.  But I did watch some of the games there.  Judging by how Jaylen has come out in the regular season thus far, I would have expected him to dominate the summer league.  And he was pretty unimpressive there, in my opinion.

In any event, for a guy with his talent, he seems to have a lack of touch around the rim.  Seems like he could have added several layups to this years’ total already.  But I shouldn’t complain.  He sure looks a hell of a lot better taking outside shots than he did last year.  Keep improving his finishes around the rim and of course the free throws and the sky COULD be the limit.

*I have no idea if guys like Abdel Nader, Semi Ojeleye, Guerschon Yabusele, Daniel Theis or Jabari Bird can actually play in the NBA.  But I can for damn sure tell you one thing:  I’d rather give those guys a shot than have carried over the likes of Jonas Jerebko, Gerald Green, Tyler Zeller and Amir Johnson into this year.  We KNOW what those guys can do…and it’s not much.  Let’s see if any of these kids can develop into something.  While playing 9th to 13th man minutes.

I’m intrigued mostly by Theis, to be honest.  Now, I don’t want him playing 30 minutes a game.  But I’d like to see him get a consistent 10-15 minutes a night to see what’s there.  Listed at 6’9″, as a center, if he can add to the mix as a rebounder, that would be a tremendous help of course.  Especially considering the fact how horrid the Celtics were in that department last year.

*Last, but not least, the Boston Bruins.  This could be a looooong year, my friends.  But you know what?  I think I am ok with it.

Say what?  Think about it.  These guys are not championship timber, by any stretch of the imagination.  Not even a player or two away.  There has been an influx of young players this year.  Started a little bit last year, but you can really see it now.  There are apparently more to come.  Don Sweeney has been talking about this for years and we MAY be starting to see the “fruits of his labor”.

We have given Donnie Hockey a little bit of a beating the last couple of years, but if this was the plan all along, and Cam Neely (also taking a beating) and ownership have been on board with it…and of course if it eventually WORKS…then the B’s could be set up for years to come.  All the while remaining at least competitive during the transition years.

There is a long way to go, but in this young season we have seen glimpses.  We’ve also been horrified at some of the play.  But with young players and inexperience, that comes with the territory.  If the future is truly bright, then can’t we deal with the ups and downs for a little longer?

*Let’s break it down a little further.  If the lines this year when everyone is healthy are…

Marchand-Bergeron-Bjork

DeBrusk-Krejci-Pastrnak

Vatrano-Spooner-Backes

Kuraly-Nash-Acciari

Chara-Carlo

Miller-McAvoy

Krug-McQuaid

…doesn’t that give you a little hope?  Specifically looking at Bjork and DeBrusk hopping right into the top six forward mix.  As well as Carlo and McAvoy making some noise on defense in their 2nd and 1st year, respectively.  Of course it would help if these guys really can play…and by all accounts they can.  It would also help if Vatrano and Spooner took their heads right out of their arses as well.  But you could always sprinkle in a Timmy Schaller…or a kid such as Danton Heinen or Austin Czarnik or I guess this Kenny Agostino dude they just brought up.  Or…

Of course, I’d rather still have Colin Miller over Kevan Miller.  Or ANYONE remaining from the Tyler Seguin trade (or someone who could play anyway…meaning…not Jimmy Hayes).  But if some of the other dudes eventually make it as well…Zach Senyshyn, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Matt Grzelcyk, Rob O’Gara, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon…we could be looking at a solid young core for years to come.  We shall see…

*Lastly, I will also tell you, I would keep the kids coming.  As the trading deadline approaches and the Bruins likely at the bottom of the playoff seedings, or even slightly out of them, I would work to shop some of the vets and implement more kids.  Not everyone, mind you.  But a few.

First off, they couldn’t necessarily trade ALL the vets anyway.  Most of the higher paid ones of course have no movement clauses, thanks to former GM Peter Chiarelli…and a little by Sweens himself.

Who would I look to deal?  Tuukka Rask, top of the list.  You just don’t need a 7 million dollar a year goalie.  Especially for a team in transition.  He has a modified no-trade.  The door is open.  Zdeno Chara has had a nice career in Boston.  But he’s heading toward 41 years old.  And they are still throwing him out there for about 25 minutes a game…in OCTOBER!  Stop the insanity!  Give those minutes to someone else.  Z has a no-move, but maybe see if he will waive it to go to a contender.  I’ve heard people around here saying that they wouldn’t mind if Chara signed on for another 2 years after this year.  Once again, STOP THE INSANITY.  You still may be actually able to get something decent for him too.

Others?  Krug for sure.  3 more years at 5.25 for a defenseman that is truly an offensive specialist.  Has some no movement protection starting next year.  Move him before that goes into effect.  Backes?  Makes 6 mil for the next 4 years with a lot of no-move protection.  Likely untradeable.  Krejci?  I’d love to see him on the above line.  But injuries seem to be taking control of him.  And yes, no-move protections of course.

Just see what’s out there for some of those guys.  Can’t hurt.  Oh yeah, it’s time to just buy Matt Beleskey out.  That ship has sailed.  Actually, that ship sailed long ago…

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…

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