NESN Bruins analyst Andy Brickley made his first weekly appearance of the 2014-15 season Wednesday, hours before the Bruins drop the puck against the Flyers in the opener at TD Garden. To hear the interview, go the MFB audio on demand page.
Prognosticators think highly of the Bruins heading into the campaign, and Brickley explained there’s a good reason for that.
“I don’t know if they’ve gotten better in any one particular area other than a little bit more experience,” Brickley said. “I think they have the strengths that most teams that want to be an elite team have. You try to build teams from the goal line on out. So they have a goaltender that won the Vezina in the last year, obviously, Tuukka [Rask] is tremendously talented and calm and has that demeanor that everybody likes to play in front of.
“They have a real good defensive corps led by Zdeno Chara. They play a defense-first system. They play a backchecking formula that really, really pays off, which is one of the main reasons that they play four lines. The demand by Claude Julien and his coaching staff to have that back pressure to help out the team defense part of the game is almost unmatched across the league. And it really stands out when you break down tape just how committed the Bruins forwards are to get back and play defense and pressure the puck and try to turn defense into offense with turnovers and control the middle of the ice — that’s that straight-down-the-middle phrase that I use.
“And then try to have their offense be a balanced scoring attack along with quality special teams. They were the third-best power play in the league last year, that has a lot to do with the infusion of young talent that they got — like a Dougie Hamilton, like a Torey Krug, they both play power play on different units. Reilly Smith comes in in that deal for [Tyler] Seguin, he gives you a different element, a little bit more speed, a little bit more skill up front. It allows Chara to play the front of the net — whether you thought that was going to be a successful and productive experiment or not, it has paid off for the Bruins.
“So, that’s the formula for success. That’s why the Jeremy Roenicks and the Barry Melroses feel that the Bruins, relative to every other team in the Eastern Conference, that they’re right there at the top.”
On the negative side, the Bruins traded defenseman Johnny Boychuck last week in a deal made to clear up some cap space. Brickley expressed concern about Dennis Seidenberg, who is returning from a knee injury last season, and said it might come down to Kevan Miller’s ability to fill Boychuck’s skates.
“I guess the answer is, can a guy like Kevan Miller step in to replace Johnny Boychuck? I think he can do a pretty credible job,” Brickley said. “He got good experience last year. I know the Bruins like that left-right symmetry, left shots on the left side, right shots on the right side. He’s got a first good stride, meaning he can explode out of any kind of forechecking pressure. He’s a physical guy, he’s tough. He’s got a good shot and he tries to play within the system.
“He’s one of those young — not so young in terms of age — but inexperienced guys as far as the NHL, doesn’t have a ton of games in the games played column, probably somewhere around 50. But he’s eyes and ears open, mouth shut, pays attention, tries to play with game speed and game attitude in practice in order to become a better player. So, I’m high on him, but Boychuck departing this team is a big loss, only because you didn’t get anything in return except draft picks for the future.
“And the Bruins do have a hole up front right now. They don’t have anybody that’s going to slide into that [Jarome] Iginla spot playing alongside David Krejci — I don’t expect to see Loui Eriksson, that’s not good chemistry there with David Krejci. He’s much better served to play with [Carl] Soderberg on that third unit. They tried to solve that void from within, from within the organization or with invites to camp, but it hasn’t gone that way.
“So I think going back to your original comment about Peter Chiarelli, yes, expect further moves to be made in order for the Bruins to get to be the team that they want by the trading deadline.”
Following are more highlights from the conversation. For more Bruins news, visit the team page at weei.com/bruins.
More on the Boychuck trade: “I didn’t like it either, just from a fan’s perspective, because of Johnny Boychuck. He really maximized what he brought to the table in this Bruins system. And he was great in the room and everybody loved him, and certainly the media liked him, all of the above. And he was a gamer. When the game meant the most, he played the hardest, as far as he was concerned, and it showed up in the results that he got.
“I didn’t understand the timing. If it was going to be an inevitable deal, like we need to move this guy when we think about beyond this season, he’s going to command at least $5 million on the open market, we have other guys that are on one-year deals that we feel we are going to have to sign ahead of him. And if they were just committed to the fact that this was something we’re going to have to do, what’s the best time to do it? They could have made other deals to get cap-compliant and still held on to Johnny Boychuck. So it becomes about timing and what can we get in return and what assets are we looking for.
“I guess I’m disappointed in the sense that it came on the eve of opening night when it should be all about team and excitement. And I’m a little disappointed that you had tremendous value in Johnny Boychuck and I’m looking for somebody to fill that right side inside the top six, and I thought that might have been a deal that might have been able to be made, because you had such value in Johnny Boychuck.
“So, we will see moving forward what the Bruins have in mind, how they’re going to fill the weaknesses or the challenges that they have in order to be the team that they want. But I’m with you. I was disappointed. I was disappointed in the timing. They say that that’s pretty good value, though, from my understanding, that other people across the league say that two seconds and a third. And if you look back into the history of the Bruins — I won’t say recent history — but part of this core group, players like [Patrice] Bergeron and [Milan] Lucic and Krejci, they were second- and third-round picks, and that’s part of your core. So you can get good players with those picks, but the Bruins haven’t been all that successful in recent years with those picks.”
On bouncing back after last season’s disappointing playoff loss to the Canadiens: “I think the overall thought is to just use that to fuel the fire, fuel the passion, unfinished business from a year ago. You lost to your archenemy and you lost in a Game 7 on home ice. You try to remember that foul taste that’s in your mouth, similar to that Game 6 loss to Chicago in the Stanley Cup finals, those guys that experienced that, if they were still on the team, which that core group still is, and they have another foul taste in their mouth.
“Peter Chiarelli has done the best he can to try to keep this core group together based on their evaluation as to who fits into that core. And they should be well-motivated. But also understand 82 games is a ton of games, it’s a lot of minutes. Look what they did last year — basically coming out of the Olympics everybody was concerned about March; they almost ran the table, 15-1-1. So they have depth, they have a system, they know what it takes to win. Maybe some different adjustments this year in order to have better legs in the postseason. You could get Montreal again in the playoffs, and that’s always a difficult matchup no matter where the teams finish in the regular standings. So maybe some adjustments for the core group, but as far as what happened last year, it should be motivating.”