Will a quiet offseason in Boston translate to another deep playoff run for the Bruins?

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When a team wins a Stanley Cup, the general manager has a different job than his 29 counterparts. While everyone else is trying to improve their team to reach the promised land, the defending Stanley Cup champs are looking for ways to maintain the talent and chemistry that helped them win sports’ most hallowed trophy. Everyone from Dale Tallon to Dean Lombardi to Mike Gillis has an offseason mandate to improve their respective teams—Peter Chiarelli’s mandate is to put a team together that is only as successful as last year’s team.

Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done.

There’s a reason that it’s been thirteen years since a team was able to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. It’s difficult to find the same motivation for a second consecutive year—but it’s also increasingly difficult to keep the same team together for multiple years. In the 1980s, the New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers were able to rattle off multiple Cup runs because it was easier to keep the majority of their core players in town. Likewise, the Canadiens were able to keep Hall of Famer after Hall of Famer in Montreal as they won 4 straight Stanley Cups in the late 1970s. It’s a different era.

One of the most impressive feats for Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli has been that he’s been able to put together a competitive team with an eye to the future. Guys like Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas are veterans who are two of the best players at their respective positions. On the flip side, the Bruins have youngsters like Tyler Seguin, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, and Milan Lucic who all have their best hockey ahead of them. Don’t look now, but the Bruins could very well be a better team next year than they were in 2010-11.

With all due respect to Boris Valabik, the major parts the Bruins lost in free agency were Michael Ryder and Tomas Kaberle. Even though fans had been calling for his head for years, Ryder provided some timely goal scoring during the Bruins Stanley Cup championship run. His 8 goals and 9 assists even put him in the top 10 for playoff scoring last season. With his departure to Dallas, the Bruins will expect to fill the void with a combination of newcomer Benoit Pouliot and an increased role for former #2 overall pick Tyler Seguin. Some people forget that Seguin was a healthy scratch periodically throughout his rookie season and only averaged about 12 minutes of ice-time per game. Towards the end of the season and during the playoffs, it looked like Seguin started to turn the corner. The Bruins will look for Seguin to breakout with an increased role next season. In fact, they expect it.

On defense, Tomas Kaberle was supposed to be the missing piece—and since the B’s won the Cup, there’s a little something to the argument. However, most people in Boston will tell you that Kaberle was one of the biggest liabilities on the Bruins roster throughout the playoffs. The only thing that helps fans forget the horrible Kaberle trade with the Maple Leafs is that big shiny chalice that the Bruins are touring the globe with this offseason. By all accounts, Kaberle was a disappointment on the ice in just about every facet of the game. He was brought in to specifically help the Boston power play, which, by the middle of the playoffs, was the biggest joke this side of Philadelphia’s goaltending.

With Kaberle signing with the Carolina Hurricanes as a free agent, the Bruins were given another chance to fill the void at the point on their power play. This time, they went the trade route by trading a 4th round pick to the same Hurricanes for Joe Corvo and his booming slap shot. He may not be the best defender in the league, but he’s proven that he can run an NHL power play. He scores with his howitzer from the blueline and also knows how to get his shot through the defense to create rebound opportunities for his teammates. On a team with Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg eating up the major minutes, Corvo should be a nice depth player to help the Bruins improve their most glaring weakness.

Perhaps the biggest loss off of last year’s roster has nothing to do with free agency and everything to do with retirement. Mark Recchi provided invaluable leadership for the younger players on the team throughout the regular season and in the playoffs. Of course, it will be important to replace his 48 points from a season ago—but it will be just as important for the newly crowned champions to find someone to step into his leadership role. On the ice, prospect Jordan Caron has been knocking on the door for over a year and could finally get a chance at a permanent spot on the team this year. Caron is a different kind of player than Recchi: he’s more of a third-line guy who plays with energy and can get under the opponents skin. If he develops like the Bruins project, he’ll be able to chip in some points as well.

The Bruins are in a much different position than the Blackhawks faced last season. There was no post-season salary cap purge; there was no feeling of finality during the parade. This team has been put together for the long-term (as long as possible in today’s cap era) and should be just as competitive as they were a season ago. Now, the only question is if their Eastern Conference rivals have done enough to overtake them and win the Prince of Wales trophy next season.

Of course, there’s that other trophy they won as well last season.

McDavid makes Keith, Blackhawks look helpless with absurd assist (Video)

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Connor McDavid‘s speed and skill are glorious, but the thing that makes him extra-sensational is just how unstoppable he seems. Even against some of the NHL’s best.

To start the season, McDavid made very-solid Calgary Flames defenseman T.J. Brodie look downright permeable during the most impressive goal in his opening-night hat trick.

If that wasn’t impressive enough, the superstar tore through the Chicago Blackhawks – including certain future Hall of Famer Duncan Keith – and then sent absolutely obscene pass to Patrick Maroon for an easy goal.

You know how people used to say that a fire hydrant could score 50 goals with Mario Lemieux? We might need to bump that down to 30 for modern hockey, but either way, Maroon might laugh uncomfortably at such jokes.

If you prefer your jaw-droppers in GIF form, drop away:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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First pick, first goal: Nico Hischier also flirting with first hat trick

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One remarkable thing about the New Jersey Devils’ hot start is that Nico Hischier, the top pick of this past draft, had yet to score his first NHL goal.

Of course, there’s a danger to looking at only goals. After all, the 18-year-old had four assists in six games, with three coming in his last two contests. The Devils were justified in all of those comments about it being just a matter of time …

… As it turns out, it didn’t take Hischier much time against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday.

Not only did the Swiss scorer find the net for his first goal by roofing a nice setup from Taylor Hall and Drew Stafford.

He also showed some savvy in scoring his second goal less than two minutes later.

Hischier now has two periods and change to collect his first-ever hat trick in that same game.

A quick look at how he’s been doing, overall

Even when other Devils stole some of his thunder in what might have been an opening statement of a first win for New Jersey, Hischier showed some dynamic moves.

Nice.

As NJ.com’s Chris Ryan reported, Devils coach John Hynes was left raving about Hischier after he collected two assists in the Devils’ shootout win against the Tampa Bay Lightning earlier this week.

“He was very good in all aspects,” John Hynes said on Wednesday. “Defensively he was excellent, going back to the video this morning, some of the chances he had that he didn’t score on were excellent. When you look at the chances he created, the assists he had, the assist on the game-tying goal, he set up (Taylor Hall) very well in the offensive zone. I’d say that was his most complete game to date.”

Hischier began the season being used sparingly, but he logged more legitimate top-six minutes the past couple games. He sure seems like a quick study so far. Hischier’s getting some protected zone starts and other situations, but there’s also sense that Hynes is going to take off the training wheels very quickly.

Thursday seems like the reward, or the flashing light, for all that good early work. This post will be updated as we wait to see if Hischier can manage that hat trick.

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Look, it’s very, very early.

All we can judge Hischier and the Devils on, right now, is how they’ve played so far … and with each game, this team looks more and more legit. And so does their prized prospect.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Bruised Bruins get Bergeron and Backes back, at least

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On paper, a game against old chums the Vancouver Canucks would probably be an assumed W for the Boston Bruins.

It hasn’t been safe to assume much during an up-and-down start so far, and that goes straight down to injuries, as Bruins news seems to rotate with the bad and the good.

In the case of Thursday, the good and the bad seem to come in hour rotations rather than days. Earlier, the unfortunate news came: Tuukka Rask was diagnosed with a concussion, adding to the rough news about Ryan Spooner.

If Anton Khudobin struggles and the Bruins need to outscore their problems, at least they’re getting reinforcements in that regard, as both David Backes and Patrice Bergeron are back in action.

One would expect Bergeron to resume much of his puck-mastery tonight, or at least soon, even if he might take a while to improve after a 2016-17 season he wasn’t totally pleased with.

(Bergeron was probably in the minority there, what with winning the Selke Trophy and his line with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak dominating opponents.)

Backes might be most interesting to watch. He reportedly lost 10 lbs. because of diverticulitis, so you wonder if he’ll be limited for a while. He’s trying to bounce back from 2016-17 in a more objective way than Bergeron, after all.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Bruins turn to Khudobin after Rask diagnosed with concussion

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A bad start to the season officially got worse on Thursday as the Boston Bruins announced that Tuukka Rask has been diagnosed with a concussion.

The 30-year-old netminder collided with Anders Bjork during practice on Wednesday and needed to be helped off the ice. Anton Khudobin will start Thursday night against the Canucks and Zane MacIntyre will serve as his backup.

The Bruins are 2-3-0 on the season with a minus-4 goal differential. Rask has struggled as well with an ugly .887 even strength save percentage in four starts. With four games over the next 11 days, the hope is that either Khudobin or MacIntyre can right the ship as Rask heals.

“I feel good. Camp was good and everything is fine, and I’ve started better than last year,” said Khudobin via NBC Sports Boston. “My role is just day-to-day. Today is a game day and hopefully, you get a good result, and then tomorrow is another new day.”

As the Bruins get David Backes and possibly Patrice Bergeron back, they’ve watched as Rask and Ryan Spooner (4-6 weeks) leave the lineup with injury. Having a roster in flux while you’re trying to find some consistency will be a tough ask for head coach Bruce Cassidy and his players.

The 31-year-old Khudobin has played well in two appearances this season, stopping 32 of 33 shots faced and posting a .970 ESSV%.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.