There’s obviously a little bit of trouble in the Hub during the season’s first edition of the Hagg Bag. The Bruins are treading water at 4-4-1 through the first nine games and just might be a .500 team traipsing through the next two months while fighting their way through more adversity than they experienced all of last season.
No Marc Savard. No Milan Lucic. Shawn Thornton is complaining that his female body parts aren’t feeling quite to effervescent. There are some documented differences of opinion between B’s dressing room leaders over the direction of the NHLPA after a regrettable decision to remove the appropriately qualified Paul Kelly from office.
Oh boy, there are some things happening with this team, and what it is ain’t exactly clear. But this is all about survival and hovering around the .500 mark into the month of December, and simply lingering near the 8th or 9th seed in the Eastern Conference until things stabilize.
It’s the exact spot that Boston finds themselves in tied with the Thrashers and Flyers headed into the weekend.
The Black and Gold should be able to continue strolling merrily down that path if David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron continue to step up their game as they have in the first two games A.S. (After Savard). If they get the elevated individual play, they simply need to play the defensive trap-happy hockey that Julien has been well-steeped in at his other hockey stops and expect the superior goaltending they received against both the Predators and Flyers.
It isn’t the formula for blowing teams out and wrangling cover stories on The Hockey News, but it’s exactly what will put the Bruins into good pole position for a second-half run.
In many ways, it’s a flashback to the 2007-08 Black and Gold edition that snuck into the playoffs and actually surrendered more goals than they scored over the course of the 82-game season. The Bruins will be a little better offensively than that bunch was, but the rallying cry is all about treading water for the next weeks. Not really sexy, but pretty effective.
Nothing too glamorous or glorious about it, but anything better than that should be considered gravy until Claude Julien gets his full roster back sometime after Thanksgiving. Seems like a long way away right now, though, doesn’t it?
As always, you can email your questions, concerns, comments or hate mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alright Joe, what's wrong with the Bruins?
I didn't LOVE the Kessel trade, but I didn't hate it either. I did like him, but something tells me he had maxed out. Either way, I don't think that's the reason they're playing so poorly.
Were PJ and Yelle that important to the penalty kill? I know they were solid, reliable guys, but come on. I think the new guys (especially Begin) have been some of the only bright spots.
I guess I have two theories: One - the uber-short preseason has not allowed them to get their legs and precision. They always look a step off. With time and more play, it will come and they'll be fine. Guys like Krejci are still recovering from surgery, etc. Once they get some rhythm to the season, they will be a #3 or #4 seed.
Plus - is it me, or has the schedule been really weird so far? They play, then get 3 or 4 days off, then play back to back, etc. Look at this week - 3 days off after Colorado, then back to back on the road in Dallas and Phoenix, 3 days off, then back to back at home in Nashville, then at Philly. That's just strange. What happened to the old Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday schedule?
The second one scares me - did we overrate these guys? Is Thomas just another guy after being spectacular last year? Did Chara peak last year (he's off to a slow start)? Did guys like Bitz and Hunwick play beyond themselves last year? Please tell me I'm wrong on this.
The Kobasew trade sorta bothers me. He's been pretty awful this year, but he's had two nice years for us. He always plays hard. He was probably overpaid, so if this allows us to resign Savard and make a great pickup at the deadline, then great. But otherwise, I'm torn.
Talk me off the edge,
JH: Get off the ledge, Mike. I disagree with you about Kessel. I think the Bruins do miss his speed and ability to break the games open, and they certainly look like they’re missing a goal-scorer from last season’s high-powered offense.
Obviously Kessel wouldn’t have helped here in the early going as he’s just begun skating in practice while still being a few weeks away from playing in games for the Maple Leafs. And he’s going to get crushed in an already ugly situation brewing in Toronto where GM Brian Burke might have just shuffled off this June’s No. 1 overall pick to the Bruins.
But teams are clogging things up in the middle of the ice against the B’s and no longer fear the speed and quick-strike ability that Kessel always threatened even if he didn’t score. Not to mention Savard – before he got hurt – really didn’t seem to have anybody that was finishing his setups like the gifted Kessel had the season prior.
But that’s a story for another day.
I think two people they did truly miss in the early going was the penalty killing abilities of Stephane Yelle and P.J. Axelsson because that unit clearly wasn’t gritty enough, hockey smart enough or resourceful enough to be effective when they were down a player.
Give B’s GM Peter Chiarelli full marks for recognizing that and pulling the trigger on a deal for Daniel Paille after already knowing – but not announcing – that Marc Savard was hurt and was going to miss 4-6 weeks. After only two games it’s pretty apparent how much of an impact Paille has made on the penalty kill with his mix of skating speed, grit and intelligence. The B’s have jumped from 69.7 to 73.7 percent success rate after shutting down the power play units for Nashville and Philly over their last two games, and appear to be getting on the right track.
It was obvious that Axelsson had lost a little of the skating speed that set him apart before he headed home to Sweden this summer, and Paille is a younger, faster option to fill in the void until some of the other killers get up to speed.
As far as the other questions, pretty much every scheduling quirk this year is attributable to the 2-3 week break for the Olympics in February. The NHL season shuts down for several weeks while the Olympic competition takes place in Vancouver, and that’s caused a bit of a packed in schedule before and after that break. The Olympics also played into the NHL season starting 7-10 days earlier than it normally does for each team after a severely abbreviated training camp window.
Don’t think Tim Thomas, Chara or any of the other Bruins have hit a level of complacency after winning awards last season, but neither of those players have bounded out of the gates either. With Savard and Lucic both out of commission, it’s important that Boston’s best players begin playing that way.
What ever happened to Carl Soderberg, the Swede the Bruins got from the Blues for Toivonen in '07?
JH: Carl Soderberg is currently a restricted free agent in terms of his NHL contract status, but he’s still the property of the Boston Bruins and will be until he reaches the age of 26 years old. Soderberg is playing at home in the Swedish Elite League for his hometown of Malmo, and the conventional thinking says that the Swedish forward doesn’t want to play in the US if he’ll be suiting up for the Providence Bruins. So the Bruins have at least two more years of proprietary ownership over Soderberg’s rights to convince him to that joining the Bruins is a good idea.
The Bruins won’t and shouldn’t make any guarantees to Soderberg of anything more than the possibility to compete for a spot, as it should be. The reluctant Swede may end up showing for one of these next two training camps, but there’s really no way of knowing if he’s simply happy being a big fish in a small Swedish pond. It’s all subject to change, of course, but the trade appears to be a bit of a washout for both sides as both the Bruins (Hannu Toivonen) and Blues exchanged pieces of defective hockey luggage that haven’t contributed much of anything ever since.
At 6-foot-3 and 207 pounds with skill to match his size, Soderberg is a point-per-game tease in the Swedish Elite League – but there isn’t much reason to daydream about the Big Swede until he decides that he wants to give the NHL a whirl.
Hope all is well.
Great notes on [Don] Cherry. I'm putting a cartoon book together and wanted to get a few quotes from him. Do you have any idea how I can get in touch with him? He'll remember me because when I was with the Globe I did a cartoon of his dog, Blue, taking a dump by Sinden's office door after he was fired.
Keep up the great work,
JH: These are kind of emails that you get when you work in the New Balance Building. Good stuff LJ and let me know the name of the cartoon book when you get a chance. I’ll plug it here in the click-friendly Hagg Bag just like Steve Buckley’s “Wicked Good Year” arriving on newsstands, bookshelves and hair-dye shops near you on Nov. 3. This mailbag is about to go viral just like Balloon Boy and the Dancing Wedding Party at the church, so get on the ground floor while you. Great idea for the Pam/Jim wedding episode of “The Office”, by the way.
Don’t have Grapes’ digits, LJ, but if I track him down during my trips up to the Great White North – and can surgically remove him from Ron McLean’s side – then I’ll see what I can do. I’m sure anything with Blue taking a dump by Sinden’s office door is enough of an icebreaker to get things going.
Joe I respect your opinions and I think you are an excellent read on the B's. However, I take some issue with the title of this article. This is a team that has proven nothing and it is a team that is not as good as last season. They are a second round KO and they have lost one of the best pure goal scorers in the game. Why would they be a target?
I also believe Chiarelli is way overrated as a GM. His track record is average at best. He has wasted ten's of millions of dollars on players like Fernandez, and buyouts for Eaves and Schaefer.
A bad trade with Versteeg and a great one with Rask.
He came in with money to spend and plenty of Chips to trade like Brad Stuart. Hired a lousy coach "Lewis" and then a good one in Julien.
It is time guys like you with a forum start calling it like it is on Chiarelli. I saw you asking him questions at the Kessel trade announcement press conference, and he was clearly uncomfortable and you guys let him off the hook.
Mark my words Joe, The Bruins go nowhere unless we turn those useless draft picks into a Kovalchuk and a number 2-3 D-man at the deadline.....We have no shot at a CUP.
Thanks Joe, I appreciate your work on the B's.
JH: Thanks Jim. Got to say I love buttering me up with the perfunctory “I like your work” opening sentence before dropping the “however” hammer on me. The first few sentences were like a roller coaster of emotion, but I think I get your drift.
Chiarelli, in your view, has a checkered career running the Bruins, and the team hasn’t done anything yet. While I agree in principle with some of what you’re saying, I think it’s a bit too harsh of an assessment on the B’s GM. You are 100 percent dead on balls accurate saying that the Bruins haven’t done anything of real consequence over the last two years.
Has Chiarelli had some booboos? Of course he has.
The Kris Versteeg trade was a learning experience for him, and we should all just be thankful that the Wild wanted Peter Kalus instead of David Krejci when he pulled the trigger on the Manny Fernandez deal. Dave Lewis was a mistake that Chiarelli quickly corrected by making the right choice in Claude Julien.
Any executive in professional sports is going to have their share of public mistakes, but one of Chiarelli’s best qualities is how carefully he considers every move he makes – and how much he’s learned in running the show over the last three plus years. I still think Chiarelli should have created a bigger defenseman splash at the trade deadline after settling on a deal with the Ducks for Steve Montador. Revisionist historians will tell you that there wasn’t enough salary cap money to make it happen, but take a look at Anaheim defenseman James Wisniewski’s 800K contract from last season and tell me it wouldn’t have fit under the cap. He was traded from the Blackhawks to the Ducks at the deadline, so he was clearly available and affordable – and is a cheap top-6 defenseman for the Ducks this season that’s really coming into his own.
Chiarelli didn’t fortify the defenseman position with enough quality and the B’s were left playing short-handed in the puck-moving area when Andrew Ference and Matt Hunwick both got hurt. Last year was a pretty special year for the Bruins. Let’s just hope the B’s front office doesn’t someday look back on last season and wish they’d done just a little more to augment that 116-point team before cap decisions began to take their effect.
But we shouldn’t vilify Chiarelli for a handful of mistakes – particularly ones that took place during his first year on the job when he was still learning quite a bit. There’s an unmistakable air of confidence within the Bruins front office, and rightfully so after building up an organization quickly that’s now widely respected around the league.
It’s a big year for the Bruins this season. Let’s see where they end up before doling out the passing or failing grades.
If it’s wrong to love Steve Begin then I don’t want to be right!
JH: Let the Begin love fest begin, Mike. No pun intended.
He’s well on his way to folk hero status in the Hub of Hockey. I knew fans were going to fawn over him when he first arrived in the B’s locker room saying that he “likes to do all of his talking with his shoulders.” That’s vintage Big Bad Bruins type stuff, although that might have been something more along the lines of “likes to do all of his talking with somebody else’s shoe.”
Begin is as advertised in the grit and effort departments – as well the physicality levels – but he’s surprised me with his skating speed and occasional offensive skills. He obviously can’t keep up his current 55-point pace for an entire 82-game NHL season, but he’s been a great offseason signing by Chiarelli. That seal of approval comes with the caveat that he can remain relatively healthy given his no holds barred style. He’ll also be a big factor for the Bruins come playoff-time. You can see Begin being one of those players that evolves into a contributing role once the games rise in importance, even if it involves a little mustache-twirling and semi-dastardly deeds.
I have said it all along and I will say it again, when healthy, Patrice Bergeron is the BEST player on the Bruins. People get all caught up into the fanciness of Savard and the sudden uprise of Krejci.
Bergeron is a complete different player (center) than either of them. Patrice is a puck protector, hard-nose center that uses his body and puck handling skills to make plays especially along the walls and below the goal line. He is difficult one-on-one and is by far the most complete player.
Krejci’s game relies on his patience, gaining time and space to visualize a certain play, not overly physical. Savard is a straight run-n-gun player, he’s vision is the greatest asset he has and uses creativity when setting up his team mates. But at times he does way too much and tends to throw the puck across the ice into no-man’s land, pretty risky center.
If anyone remembers, Patrice was tagged to be the #1 center after Joe Thornton was traded and before Savard’s arrival. To me, he was worth every penny he was given when he signed the contract. He is going to have a break out year. Although bold, I made a prediction before the season started, he will lead the team with 85+ points this season…he can be that good.
JH: Totally agree Jesse ... Last year was a transitional year for Bergeron, and he looks every bit the 30-goal, 70-point player that he was pre-concussion. He will be the guy to step up and fill in the void with Savard on the shelf for the next 4-6 weeks, and Krejci will slide in as the No. 2 guy. It’s a great story all-around, actually.
It’s been pretty enjoyable to watch Bergeron simply shield guys away from the puck and basically play keep-away while waiting for a play to develop in the offensive zone. He has that little extra bit of confidence to hold onto the puck for the extra second now, and wait for things to develop in front of him. That’s something that was missing from much of last season’s lost year, but he started to regain it down the stretch and into the playoffs.
By the time he dropped the gloves and clobbered Josh Gorges during last year’s playoffs, the 24-year-old was at least mentally all the way back to being his old self.
I think Krejci has some physical elements to his game when he’s going good as well, and is best when he plays with a slight edge. But he’s nowhere near as physically strong as Bergeron, and needs to play with a bit more finesse and craftiness carrying the puck and setting up his teammates.
One thing people forget is that Bergeron is only a year older than Krejci. That to me, is amazing and speaks to how much Bergeron is capable of giving this year. Check out last week’s Three things if you’re looking for more about Bergeron.
The injuries happen to everyone throughout the long season. I think at this time of year it is perfect. The B’s were waiting around for their top line/lines to do all the work and get the job done.
Well those lines have been affected by trades and injuries. Now what? They are showing signs of pulling it together but an NHL game isn’t two periods. They need to come out and play 60 minutes as the Brick would say.
The intensity is there for one period and then non-existent the next. Keep Thomas in the pipes as he gets better as he plays more. He is not going to do well sitting around for two and three games in a row. CLODE, make a decision on who is your Number 1 and then stick to it! Morris-what is that?
This guy is no better than Hal Gil and Gil happens to have a ring……Enough said. Let’s get goin’ boys, time is a wasting.
JH: There it is. No Hagg Bag is complete without an obvious, unflattering jab at Hal Gill. Now I can put a bow on this one with Mat demanding for 60 minutes of intensity. Way to get the cliché machine fired up there, Matty. See you in a couple of weeks.