Boston Bruins v Vancouver Canucks - Game Five

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.

B’s re-sign Kevan Miller: four years, $10 million

Boston Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller (86) is upended as he chases the puck against Florida Panthers left wing Jiri Hudler (24) in the second period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, March 24, 2016, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
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Kevan Miller has cashed in on a career year.

And a fortuitous confluence of circumstances.

Miller, who posted personal highs in games played (71), goals (five) and points (18) last season, has scored a four-year, $10 million extension from the Bruins, per TSN.

That works out to a $2.5M average annual cap hit through 2020.

Miller, 28, scored the payday after taking a while to establish himself at the NHL level. Undrafted out of Vermont, he spent considerable time with AHL Providence before becoming a regular in Boston last season.

Despite those aforementioned career highs, it was an erratic season for Miller.

Often playing alongside Zdeno Chara on Boston’s top defensive pair, he was criticized for making mistakes in his own zone and struggled with consistency, something he lamented at the end of the year.

“I think it was frustrating,” Miller said, per the Boston Herald. “I wanted to be more consistent throughout the season.

“There were some ups and downs coming back off surgery last season and this year I was trying to find my feet initially, and toward the end I started to play pretty well.”

In Miller’s defense, he was miscast as a top-pairing blueliner — duly noted by CSN New England’s Joe Haggerty, who wrote the following:

Miller is a perfectly fine and rugged bottom-pairing defenseman that brings toughness, and can survive well enough against other team’s bottom two forward lines.

But he has struggled all season when charged with stopping the other team’s best offensive players, and it has really started coming to a head over the last month.

As such, today’s extension may have caught some by surprise — like those at the Boston Globe, who wondered if Miller was “destined” for free agency, suggesting he “will draw interest” on the open market.

But others might not be all that shocked.

Miller plays on a Boston defense that’s been thinned over the last two years — by the Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton trades, specifically — and doesn’t have many capable replacements at the ready.

Miller’s not great, but he had leverage. He knew it, his agent knew it and, based on the term and the price tag, the Bruins knew it too.

Related: Kevan Miller is not the problem for the Bruins, but he does illustrate the problem

Oilers ‘owe it to the fans to get better in a relatively short period of time’: Chiarelli

SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 26: Peter Chiarelli of the Edmonton Oilers attends the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The more Peter Chiarelli talks, the more anticipation grows for a big trade.

The Oilers’ general manager spoke to Sportsnet yesterday at the Memorial Cup, where he was asked once again about the possibility of dealing the fourth overall draft pick for some NHL-ready help.

“Would I look to move it? We want to win. I took the job in Edmonton to win, so as I said earlier, we’ll look at all options,” said Chiarelli. “There’s some pretty good players that are going to be available at four but we may look to move down and still use a pick to get an asset as part of a larger deal. We owe it to the fans to get better in a relatively short period of time and we’re going to look at all options to allow us to do that.”

The number one area that the Oilers need to upgrade is the defense. So if, for example, a player like Tyson Barrie were made available by the Colorado Avalanche, Chiarelli would no doubt be interested. Ditto for Jacob Trouba, Sami Vatanen, or whoever else could be in play this offseason.

It won’t be easy, but if Chiarelli can add a capable, young top-4 defenseman (arguably the most valuable commodity in the NHL) and perhaps a veteran too, all of a sudden things look a lot more promising on the back end. Remember that Darnell Nurse is still only 21, Oscar Klefbom just 22. And even if the Oilers move down in the draft, they could still add another d-man to a mix that also includes youngsters Brandon Davidson, Adam Clendening, Griffin Reinhart and Jordan Oesterle.

If, on the other hand, Chiarelli fails to upgrade the defense, then the Oilers may struggle once again next season.

Hence, the urgency to get something done now, for a fan base that hasn’t experienced playoff excitement in a decade.

After so much losing, there’s no selling patience anymore in Edmonton.

Related‘There’s a real legitimate chance’ that Oilers trade fourth overall pick

People are wondering — do the Florida Panthers know what they’re doing?

2011 NHL Entry Draft - Round One
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The Florida Panthers’ managerial shakeup continued this week with the firing of their director of player personnel, Tom Luce.

Luce had been with the club since 2002. According to his bio, he had “been responsible for the Panthers drafting notable players, including Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, Erik Gudbranson, Jonathan Huberdeau and Dmitry Kulikov.”

The firing of Luce was particularly noteworthy, since it came just days after Dale Tallon was “promoted” to president of hockey operations. That move was sold as a way for Tallon to do more of what he liked (scouting), while handing off other responsibilities (contracts, salary cap, etc.) to new GM Tom Rowe and his young assistants, Eric Joyce and Steve Werier.

But not all in the Florida media are buying, apparently.

From Sun Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde:

I can retire now. I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen teams fire everyone after bad, average and even mildly disappointing seasons. But I’d never seen a team replace people who created a record-setting season that buoyed the franchise’s future.

Until the Florida Panthers over the last few days.

Hyde goes on to question the Panthers’ new, analytics-focused direction. (If that direction sounds similar, it’s because the Arizona Coyotes are taking the same route.)

His column finishes like this:

This should be an offseason of great hope for the Panthers. Instead, it’s now weighed down with a question of recent days. It’s not what Tallon’s diminished role is or who Rowe is.

The question starts here: Does Vinnie Viola know what he’s doing?

And that’s a fair question to ask of any owner. Especially a new one.

That being said, it’s also fair to question how much Tallon and Luce should be credited for the Panthers’ turnaround. After all, since Tallon was hired in 2010, Florida has had the first overall draft pick (Ekblad), the second overall pick (Barkov), and two third overall picks (Gudbranson, Huberdeau). Yes, there have been a few savvy picks — Vincent Trocheck in the third round stands out — and a few good additions via trade. But really, with all the blue-chip talent they’ve been gifted, making the playoffs this year was the least they should have expected.

“It’s a great game, but a tough business sometimes,” Rowe said of the firings, per the Sun Sentinel. “The fans came out in big numbers and it was awesome. We made the playoffs and that’s good. But at the end of the day, I didn’t think we had enough punch in the playoffs and I don’t think we gave [coach Gerard Gallant] enough options to get past the Islanders on our third and fourth lines.”

Regardless of where you stand on what’s happening in Florida, you can’t deny it’s all quite reminiscent of the summer of 2009, when Tallon was fired by the Chicago Blackhawks, replaced by the much-younger Stan Bowman.

Here’s a column that was written by the Chicago Tribune’s Rick Morrissey after that decision was made:

Wirtz and McDonough wanted to have their own crew in place. Fair enough. They don’t even want a suggestion of the mustiness of the Bob Pulford era.

But let’s try to remember Tallon played a huge role in building a team that surprised a lot of people by getting to the Western Conference finals last season. How it came to be that they chose Stan Bowman over Tallon is no secret. There had been rumblings for most of the year that Tallon would be out.

Yes, anybody could have picked superstars-in-training Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. But let’s remember that anybody could have picked Michael Jordan in the first round of the 1984 NBA draft. The teams with the first two picks didn’t.

The Blackhawks, of course, won the Stanley Cup the next year, a month after Tallon was introduced as the new GM in Florida.

Back to Matt: Facing elimination, Pens will start Murray

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 16:  Matt Murray #30 and Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins look on against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Consol Energy Center on May 16, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but there’s a goalie change coming in the conference final.

On Tuesday, Pens head coach Mike Sullivan announced that Matt Murray would be back in goal for tonight’s decisive Game 6 in Tampa Bay — this after Sullivan opted to park Murray in favor of Marc-Andre Fleury for Game 5.

Technically speaking, Murray’s been parked since the second period of Game 4. That, of course, was the one in which he allowed four goals on 30 shots, paving the way for Fleury to enter the third with Pittsburgh down 4-0.

And that’s when things changed.

The goalie switch seemed to spark the Pens, who scored three times in the final frame to make things interesting. While that was going on, Fleury looked sharp — though not especially busy — stopping all seven shots faced, as his mates nearly pulled off a remarkable comeback.

The decision was then made to start Fleury on Saturday night.

He played to mixed reviews in a 4-3 OT loss, making just 21 saves (for an .840 percentage) while appearing shaky on a number of occasions. Though he could hardly be blamed for the game-winning goal — replays showed that Jason Garrison‘s point shot deflected off Tyler Johnson‘s behind — Fleury just didn’t look right, which isn’t a shock.

It was his first start since suffering a concussion on Mar. 31.

As mentioned above, goalie changes have been a predominant storyline among the final four playoff teams. St. Louis has started both Brian Elliott and Jake Allen, and the Bolts were forced to go to Andrei Vasilevskiy after Ben Bishop got hurt in the series opener.

In that light, Sullivan’s questionable decision to start Fleury in Game 5 is somewhat mitigated because, hey, other teams are having goalie issues too.

It’s also worth noting Pittsburgh’s situation in goal probably has much to do with its situation on defense. There’s little coincidence the club has conceded eight goals over the last two games with Trevor Daley (broken ankle) almost entirely out of action, Olli Maata being thrown into action and Kris Letang shouldering gigantic minutes — including a whopping 31:38 in Game 4.

Related: Rutherford says Fleury’s ‘absolutely not’ done in Pittsburgh, but logic suggests otherwise