Friday, February 18, 2011

New Look Bruins

Word is coming down that today has been a big trading day for the Bruins.

Outgoing: Blake Wheeler, Mark Stuart, Joe Colborne, the B’s first-rounder in 2011, and a conditional pick*

Incoming: Tomas Kaberle, Boris Valabik and Rich Peverley

Outgoing NHL stats:
Wheeler in 58 games: 27 points, 11 goals, 16 assists, +8, 32 penalty minutes
Mark Stuart: 31 games, 5 points. 1 goal, 4 assists, +8, 23 penalty minutes

Incoming NHL stats:
Kaberle (D) in 58 games: 38 points, 3 goals, 35 assists, -2, 16 penalty minutes
Peverley (C) in 59 games: 34 points, 14 goals, 20 assists, -16, 35 penalty minutes
Valabik (D) in 23 games: 3 points, 0 goals, 3 assists, +3, 36 penalty minutes

The Bruins also recently acquired:
Chris Kelly (C) in 57 games, 23 points, 12 goals, 11 assists, -12, 27 penalty minutes

*Toronto will receive a 2012 second-rounder if Boston advances to the Stanley Cup final this season or if Kaberle re-signs with the Bruins.

Valabik seems likely to play in Providence.

Quick analysis: Chiarelli's penchant for obtaining centers over wingers continues. The stats alone suggest that the Bruins will have the potential score a lot more points, but the main incoming players have negative plus/minuses with their other teams. How these guys fit into the room and Julien's system will make all the difference.

EDIT: I originally misread the first round pick sent to Toronto as being Toronto's first round pick (which the B's currently hold). Given this I no longer think they overpaid for Kaberle. These deals appear to me to be more excellent work from Peter Chiarelli. I don't write about it much, but Chiarelli seems to be a force to be reckoned with among GMs. One way or another it seems only a matter of time before the Cup comes back to Boston.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Trouble Bruin

How quickly things can go downhill. As it stands now the Bruins have some big problems; problems that I think may be bigger than similar ones they have faced in recent years.

For starters, they need to get the defense back. While we were all celebrating the wild win against the Habs I had this nagging worry at the back of my mind: sure they won the game, but they let the Habs score 6 goals. Beginning that night the Bruins--arguably one of the best defensive teams in the NHL--have allowed an average of 5 goals per game. Claude Julien needs to get the players thinking defense again and fast. I get the impression that they changed up their game some--forwards now work to open up space and use their speed as an offensive weapon, but it is working both ways. They are scoring more goals, but giving up even more. There are too many odd man rushes with speed; too many turnovers at both blue lines; and they aren't clogging up the neutral zone. Playing like the Oilers of old may be great fun, but it's not getting the job done.

Another problem that needs to be addressed is their power play. It has struggled all season and Claude needs to find the time to get it on track while they still can. If Chiarelli can land the right player to QB the PP before the deadline that could help a lot.

But the biggest problem is more difficult. The Bruins played near the top of their game against Detroit and San Jose and came up losers. This wasn't a lack of effort or a poor performance, the Bruins simply weren't they better team. The Western Conference is so competitive this year that I fear whatever team wins the Eastern Conference final is going to get crushed, the Bruins included. There is only one solution to this one: the whole team has to work harder to get better between now and then.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Beat Goes On

Some random thoughts about last night's game against the Habs and the Bruins this season in general:

I hope somebody got a really good picture of the six Bruins in the penalty box. I would love to have it as a poster or desktop wallpaper. Hell, they should put it on a billboard come the playoffs.

I recently posted that the Bruins players didn't really seem to get the rivalry with the Habs. I think it's safe to say they do now!

What was up with that TSN Bruins love fest carried on Versus? Strange broadcast.

Somebody should ask Cherry and Milbury about their claim that the remarks made by Ference with regard to the Paille hit were going to be poison for the room.

It was very entertaining to read the Montreal paper's version of last night's game. The Montreal press draws a picture of a wild high scoring affair that the Habs were in until the very end that also had a few "brawls" in it. No mention is made of what those who watched the game saw: a serious beatdown by the Bruins.

If you want to win against the Bruins the last thing you want to do is to go into their own building and try to push them around. As the Avs have discovered twice now (slow learners) and the Habs found out last night, the Bruins will beat the crap out of you AND you will lose the game.

Espo told a story in his book about his first shift in the NHL. He lined up against his childhood idol Gordie Howe. At the drop of the puck Howe smacks Espo in the face, splitting his lip. Espo asked him later what that was all about and Howe said something to the effect that had Espo not stood up to him Howe would have owned Espo for the rest of his career. While it can't be said that the Habs backed down last night they did come out on the losing end in most every way. I feel confident that should these two teams meet come playoff time the B's will own them.

That mental aspect of the game is so important. A team can win by reputation alone before the game even starts. I'd put the recent B's game against the Sharks in that category. I swear the way they played the Bruins made the Sharks look BIGGER. And I swear the Sharks have something going on with those white jerseys that just make them look big. Another team the B's seemed a little awed by was the Kings. Should fate bring the B's against either of these teams in the Cup Final it could be interesting. Maybe too interesting.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Andrew Ference is a Stand Up Guy

Andrew Ference simply told the truth about Daniel Paille's hit on Raymond Sawada. He said nothing that should have been considered criticism of his teammate. Essentially I agree with this post. Paille made a mistake in judgment that got someone hurt. So what? Nobody is accusing him of intentionally trying to hurt anyone.

Don Cherry and Mike Milbury, who criticized Ference for speaking the truth, are paid very well to make hyperbolic statements. The more ruckus they raise the more attention they get and the attention brings higher advertising revenue. They aren't paid to speak the truth. If you watch Milbury closely it appears that he knows full well that he is only doing what is expected of him. He's playing a role. But I think Cherry may have been playing this role for so long that he can't tell the difference between the entertaining nonsense he sputters and what's real anymore.

Anyhow, what I'm wondering is where is Dan Paille in all this? Shouldn't he have been the one saying what Ference said? Why didn't he stand up and tell the truth? The few quotes I have read from Paille seem to indicate that he disagrees with what Ference said. If so, then he needs a reality check. Either he is being baited by the press, who often misrepresent what others have said in order to get a "rise" out of the person they are interviewing, or his character is something less than stellar. If there is any resentment in the room from Paille then I think he needs to man up.

Andrew Ference stands up for what he believes in. He also stands up for his teammates on the ice where it matters most. Ference is one of the most underrated defensemen in the NHL and I think an underrated player by Bruins fans. He is currently +19, trailing only Chara (+23) among B's defensemen. I for one am glad he's a Bruin.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The All Star Game is Fun

Stephen Harris wrote this article about the all star game. I've been meaning to comment on it but only now have the chance. In this article Harris says that, "...certainly people who have any fondness or respect for the NHL, should look upon the All-Star Game with nothing but contempt." How dare he say this. It's one thing to voice your opinion, but to suggest that everyone must agree with it is rather narcissistic. Worse than that, he implies that anyone who does not look upon the game with contempt isn't a fan of "true" hockey.

Harris also makes a case for the all star game causing harm because, "The things that really matter in the NHL has (sic) nothing to do with what takes place in this game."

I could not disagree more. The All-star game is fun. So what if it isn't about real hockey? Call me an idiot if you must but I enjoyed much of it this year. I enjoyed seeing the players have fun during the team selection. I nearly fell off my chair laughing at Ovechkin taking a picture with his phone of Kessel sitting all alone--the last player chosen. The devilish look on his face was hilarious!

There were also a few highlights during the skill competition that made it worth watching. And the game itself... that was actually pretty special. Sure, the first period was like watching paint dry and the second wasn't much better. But I had a feeling that with this new team structure that if the game was close near the end we might see the play pick up. Sure, there was no hitting, yet the final minutes had some real intensity to them. Not a cup final, of course, but far more intensity than I have seen in previous games. It was fun!

I don't know where Harris gets this idea that the all-star game is primarily designed to bring new fans to the sport. I think those days are long over. The Winter Classic is the better forum for that. Give people--even non Hockey fans--some credit. They know that an all-star game isn't a true representation of the sport. It's a chance for people (kids above all!) to see their favorite players have some fun. The NHL expanded in the 1980's not because of the all-star game but because of Wayne Gretzky and a fledgling ESPN that brought the sport to a wider audience of sports fans. Growing the game today is more about bringing great players and championships to non-traditional hockey markets like Dallas, Tampa, or Raleigh.

That doesn't mean that the all-star game can't be better. Personally I think the fan balloting is a joke and I'd like to see it go away. It's really just a marketing ploy to harvest names and addresses for the NHL to send out catalogs to. What I'd like to see is for the selection to be a real honor rather than an online popularity poll. For that to happen it has to be about the players, not the fans. I'd like to see the players choose the all stars. Let each team nominate three players via a player secret ballot. Then let all the players in each conference vote on the 45 players nominated and take the top 9 forwards, top 6 defensemen and top 3 goaltenders for an 18-man talent pool. Finally, use this year's system for picking teams.

Intent to Injure

In a wild game last night against the Dallas Stars Daniel Paille was penalized under NHL rule 48 (Illegal Check to the Head). He was also given a match penalty at the discretion of the referee. This morning the NHL announced a 4 game suspension of Paille and a fine of $23,118.28.

The Stars' Raymond Sawada is reported to have suffered a broken nose and a separated shoulder.

Here is the main part of rule 48:

48.1 Illegal Check to the Head – A lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact is not permitted.

I agree completely that this was an illegal hit to the head under this new rule and agree with the four game suspension. But something is not completely right here. Section 5 of rule 48 reads:

48.5 Match Penalty - The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a match penalty if, in his judgment, the player attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent with an illegal check to the head.

This part I am having trouble with. I have heard the pundits weigh in on this one and too many, in my opinion, are comparing this hit to the Matt Cooke hit on Mark Savard last year. When it comes to this last part--"intent to injure" I couldn't disagree more. These hits are completely different.

Watching the play develop last night I saw a resurgent Dallas team get a couple of good bounces of the puck to get behind most of the Bruins defense. When Paille made that hit he was making a good defensive play as Sawada was driving to the net in control of the puck. Sawada had is head down and Paille used poor judgment when he unloaded on him from the side. But how did the referee determine that he "deliberately injured his opponent?" Did he call in a mind reader? Shame on him for assuming this was anything more than poor judgment on a back check.

If you compare this hit to the Cooke incident there are several major differences. The first is that the hit came behind the play. Savard did not have possession of the puck. Second, the hit was a blindside from behind. Third, Cooke was seen to have intentionally raised his elbow for the blow to the head as he skated by. Even in this case we can't know what was going through Cooke's mind. He may have simply been careless--misjudging his speed and the effect of the impact of his elbow on Savard's head. How will we ever know? Intent to injure or not, it seems to me that the Cooke hit was much more reckless. Unlike the Paille hit this was not a part of the play. When it comes to being behind the play, as far as I'm concerned Cooke might just as well have mugged Savard with a tire iron in the parking lot after after the game.

Rule 48 didn't exist at the time of the hit on Savard and famously Cooke didn't even receive a penalty. I wonder what the NHL would do if that same hit happened today? Give him a six game suspension? I think there needs to be a distinction drawn between these sorts of hits when it comes to the sentence handed down. It also should not be based on "intent" which is impossible to know. Intent was a mistake. I think recklessness is a better way to discriminate one from the other and the situation should matter. It is far more reckless to hit someone from behind who is going to tag a puck for icing, or behind the play without the puck, than when making a split second decision on a defensive play in front of the net.