Boston Bruins

It’s Boston Bruins day at PHT

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If nothing else, you shouldn’t confuse next season’s Boston Bruins with the group who failed to make the playoffs in 2014-15.

After a pretty impressive run of seven postseason berths, the Bruins fell two points short of the postseason, but apparently the bitter flavor of that campaign was too much for management.

Granted, as much as new GM Don Sweeney wants to modernize the team’s transition game, there are still some core tenants remaining.

The defense will depend upon aging star defenseman Zdeno Chara, perhaps more than ever. Tuukka Rask may be expected to earn every cent of his $7.5 million salary in 2015-16. It looked dicey for some time, but Claude Julien remains behind the bench.

It’s tough to gauge what, exactly, we should expect from a very different Bruins team. People probably won’t be any happier if they miss the playoffs again, though.

Off-season recap

That’s because their offseason seemingly went from – pardon the cliche – rebuilding to reloading.

OK, maybe it’s wisest to label it a partial rebuild. Would they be totally blowing things up and still sign Matt Beleskey to a five year, $19 million contract? More than a few Bruins fans cringed at acquiring Zac Rinaldo, yet the move argues at least partially for a change of pace rather than punting on competitiveness altogether.

After all, they’re investing plenty of money in Chara, Rask, David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron, right?

It’s true that the Bruins did sacrifice the present a bit for the future, however. Moving Milan Lucic out of town took many aback, and trading away Dougie Hamilton will stand as a polarizing decision (to say the least).

One could say that Hamilton and eventually Lucic would be too expensive to keep, but again, they spent some of the cash they conceivably could have used on Hamilton to sign Beleskey.

In summary, the Bruins fired Peter Chiarelli in favor of Sweeney, essentially traded Lucic for Beleskey, added beef actually trading Reilly Smith for Jimmy Hayes and parted ways with Hamilton.

That’s a brain-full, and we could see even more changes if the Bruins don’t make gains next season. Stay tuned.

It’s Florida Panthers day at PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Florida Panthers.

For the third season in a row, the Florida Panthers fell short of the playoffs.

This time around, there were signs of moderate progress, as they finished 10th overall in the East with a 38-28-15 record (91 points). Final wild card team Pittsburgh finished seven points ahead of them, so there’s still work to do.

For especially jaded fans, this may sound like a broken record, yet the team’s extreme mix of potential and experience could make for intriguing results.

At one end, you have veteran star power with Jaromir Jagr and Roberto Luongo. They even have Brian Campbell for one more year, as his oft-cited $7.14 million cap hit will expire after 2015-16.

On the other end, a bountiful crop of young players earned from all these years of underwhelming play.

Aaron Ekblad won the 2015 Calder Trophy, while this year’s first-rounder Lawson Crouse may also make an immediate impact. Nick Bjugstad, Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau are all showing varying degrees of promise. Bjugstad’s the oldest of these young players, and he’s just 23.

Expectations should climb in Gerard Gallant’s second season as head coach, at least from those who are paying attention to a team that frequently slips under the radar.

Off-season recap

For the most part, the Panthers stayed idle in free agency, either letting veterans walk (Tomas Kopecky) or shoving them out the door (Brad Boyes). Perhaps re-signing Jagr constitutes their “big splash,” then?

They did make one eyebrow-raising move in adding Marc Savard’s contract in a deal that sent Jimmy Hayes to the Boston Bruins for Reilly Smith.

Florida seems content with letting its young players continue to grow alongside Jagr and Luongo.

Can the Bruins’ defense get up to speed?

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It sounds like the Boston Bruins were taking notes when they watched mobile defensemen Duncan Keith and Victor Hedman square off in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.

GM Don Sweeney isn’t asking his group to impersonate Bobby Orr next season, but it sounds like he’s asking for a more active approach, as the Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa reports in this interesting piece.

Most obviously, he wants defensemen to skate a bit more with the puck in transition, easing things on the Bruins’ forwards.

“I think they have to,” Sweeney said. “At times, we probably got a little bit too stationary on our breakouts. We need to be in motion a little bit. That means our forwards will be in motion a little bit, because teams were able to smother the walls, pinch, and pre-pinch.”

Shinzawa provides a few additional sensory details about how such a modified scheme might work, at least ideally:

The tweaks are meant to shift the danger level away from the net. Defensemen will be more active, perhaps up the ice and closer to the walls. Forwards will not have to retreat as far to funnel pucks into favorable real estate. There will be greater challenges to zone entries, similar to how MBTA police close down on fare evaders. The goal, as Sweeney likes to say, is to create anxiety for opponents up the ice.

Let’s be honest, though: it’s reasonable to wonder if the Bruins really boast the personnel to make such a modernization work.

(This idea also turns the knife in a little deeper when it comes to losing Dougie Hamilton.)

Looking at the structure of this team, is it better to try to keep up with the Joneses or merely try to do what you do best? After all, there’s always the possibility that Claude Julien, Zdeno Chara and David Krejci will see better days after a bumpy season (which featured serious injury issues for Chara and Krejci).

Striving for a more modern approach is understandable, but sometimes sports teams lose their identity and gain little in return by trying to dance to the beat of someone else’s drum.

Either way, it’s an intriguing development to ponder in 2015-16. The full article is well worth a read, by the way.

(H/T to Kukla’s Korner)

Anaheim Ducks ’15-16 Outlook

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The Anaheim Ducks are out to win the Stanley Cup now after falling just one win shy of beating the eventual champions in the Western Conference Final. They certainly have the core to go far, but do they have the depth?

Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are one of the best offensive duos in the league while Ryan Kesler is a great two-way center that helped improve their second line in his first campaign with Anaheim in 2014-15. However, those three were the only members of the Ducks to record at least 40 points last season, which is part of the reason why Anaheim finished close to the middle of the pack with 2.78 goals per game.

There are reasons to hope for more in 2015-16 though, even if they did lose Matt Beleskey (22 goals) over the summer. The Ducks have added some capable secondary scorers Carl Hagelin, Shawn Horcoff, and Chris Stewart, but it’s Jakob Silfverberg that stands out the most among Anaheim’s forwards outside of its top-three. The 24-year-old had 39 points in the regular season, but he broke out in the playoffs with four goals and 14 assists in 16 contests. He meshed well with Kesler in the playoffs after Silfverberg only spent spent about a third of his five-on-five regular season minutes with the second-line center. If the two share the ice more frequently this season, it could result in a significantly improved second line.

Defensively, the Ducks will be anchored by newcomer Kevin Bieksa after losing Francois Beauchemin on the free agent market. That being said, it’s the team’s young defensive core of Sami Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm, and Cam Fowler that will go a long way towards determining if this is a successful campaign for Anaheim. They’ll also be leaning heavily on 25-year-old goaltender Frederik Andersen.

The hope is that their younger players have grown thanks to their lengthy playoff run. That needs to be true for the Ducks because while Getzlaf, Perry, and Kesler are a vital part of their success, they’ve also already reached their peak. If Anaheim is to grow enough to get over the final hurdle standing between it and a championship, then that improvement will have to come from its talented youngsters.

It’s Anaheim Ducks Day at PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Anaheim Ducks.

It’s becoming an all too familiar story for fans of the Anaheim Ducks: solid regular season followed by disappointment in the playoffs.

For a third consecutive season, Anaheim finished the regular season as the top seed in the Pacific Division. And for a second consecutive year, the Ducks owned the best record in the Western Conference (51-24-7).

However, just like they did during the 2014 playoffs, the Ducks fell to the eventual Stanley Cup champions, losing in seven games to the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Ducks did make some strides – they hadn’t been to the conference final since winning the franchise’s only Stanley Cup in 2007.

Newcomer Ryan Kesler gave the Ducks a nice 1-2 punch down the middle. The 30-year-old finished third in team scoring behind Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry with 20 goals and 47 points in 81 games.

Anaheim also got career years out of forwards Jakob Silfverberg, Patrick Maroon and defenseman Sami Vatanen.

Matt Beleskey, who has since signed with the Boston Bruins, added a career-high 22 goals for a Ducks team, which finished 11th in the league in goals-for per-game (2.78).

In goal, Frederik Andersen shouldered the load going 35-12-5 with a 2.38 G.A.A and a .914 save percentage while making 54 appearances in his second NHL season. His 35 wins were good for eighth in the league.

John Gibson also made 23 appearances in the Ducks’ crease going 13-8-0 to go along with a 2.60 G.A.A. and a .914 save percentage. The 22-year-old struggled last season battling with injuries and inconsistencies.

Off-season recap

The Ducks are clearly in a win-now mode.

GM Bob Murray added a veteran presence on the team’s blue line by acquiring Kevin Bieksa from the Vancouver Canucks.

Up front, the Ducks acquired Carl Hagelin and signed free agents Shawn Horcoff and Chris Stewart.

In goal, Murray acquired Anton Khudobin in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes to challenge Andersen and Gibson.

With the likes of Jiri Sekac, Rickard Rakell and Chris Wagner up front, and Simon Despres, Hampus Lindholm and Vatanen on the blue line all due contract extensions after next season it’s unlikely Murray can keep his young nucleus together.

Both Andersen and Gibson will also require new deals as well while Khudobin is an unrestricted free agent after this season.

Anaheim’s time to win is now before Murray and his staff begins the process of creatively re-tooling the club next summer.