Thursday, June 21, 2012

Time For a New Trophy for Defensemen

The NHL awards the James Norris Memorial Trophy to the league's top "defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position".

Unfortunately the voters from the professional hockey writer's association give so much weight to scoring in their voting that the winner isn't always the best defenseman. The winner in 2012, the young Erik Karlsson, has once again brought this issue to the forefront. It is clear to just about everyone that Karlsson is nowhere near the best all around defenseman in the NHL. His role with the team was limited and unlike the other nominees he was not called upon to regularly shut down the NHL's top players. What he did do was score a lot of goals, particularly on the power play. It's an obvious travesty that goal scoring is considered the hallmark of the best defensive player.

It's time we had two trophies, one for best defenseman and one for the best offensive defenseman.  Name the best offensive defenseman trophy in honor of Bobby Orr (for obvious reasons).

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Really Tough Question: Milan Lucic

The press is all abuzz about the "big" question facing the Bruins regarding their two goaltenders. Even though the Bruins have indicated that they are happy with keeping Tim Thomas and Tukka Rask for next year, they keep stirring the pot about trading Thomas. When you read this stuff long enough it becomes pretty clear that their reasons for writing these articles are about writing headlines that get people's attention. The rest is just filler they can arrange their advertisements around.

Writers like Stephen Harris can write snide articles about how Thomas wasn't "great" this year all they want, but it doesn't change the fact that he's the most consistently good goaltender in the NHL today (where was Ryan Miller this year? Luongo? Lundquist last year?). The fact is that there would have been no cup without Thomas and there is little likelihood there will be another without him either. A goaltender like Thomas is a once in a lifetime thing.

On Thursday the media had the opportunity to ask Cam Neely anything they wanted. They of course asked their "tough" question about Thomas. But they didn't ask the question I would have asked: "Mr. Neely, what did you think of Milan Lucic's play in game seven?"

Lucic is a sort of project of Neely's. It was a phone call from Neely that persuaded Lucic to come to the Bruins in the first place. I have always wondered what Neely promised him. It seemed clear in the years that followed that Lucic was being groomed to play a certain role for the team. What began to play out was like a movie script. He spent his entire first season fighting everyone who would go with him, including the toughest fighters in the league. Neely personally took him under his wing, even going out on the ice during practice to give him tips. Having won over the Boston fans with his fighting, Lucic began the transition to modern power forward. It was a bit rocky at times, and many wondered if he could make it as a top line winger.

In a way, Lucic reminds me of one of my childhood Bruins heroes, Phil Esposito. Phil was not the fastest skater, but he was big and strong and he knew how to use those assets. If Gretzky's "office" was behind the net, Espo's was in front. He'd just stand there defiantly, challenging someone from the other team to move him, and when there was a rebound he'd pounce on it.

We've all watched Lucic's slow and awkward skating, followed by a critical goal on a drive to the net that nobody could stop. I vividly recall a game late this last season where he was just floating around in the offensive zone, being completely ineffective. It was so bad that I started yelling at him on the TV to get his feet moving and make something happen. Just then a linemate forced a turnover in the corner and the puck popped right to Lucic's stick. He had some room and drove straight to the net and scored. I just stood there shaking my head, not sure what to make of it. After all, I had just been yelling at him to get in the damned game.

During another late season game he was carrying the puck up the wing just as we'd seen him do again and again. Usually he'd run into a defenseman who'd stop him along the boards and he'd just stand there watching the puck slide into the corner. It was infuriating to watch. This time he ran into two players who squeezed him off, but they bounced awkwardly off each other and Lucic broke through. There was a moment of hesitation, like he was truly surprised, and then he drove straight to the net and scored. How do you figure a player like that?

Nobody in the media is talking about it, but in game seven Lucic literally stood around on the ice. You hear coaches talk about how players need to keep their feet moving, but what they mean is that they shouldn't be gliding around. The idea of just standing out there by yourself, motionless, is unimaginable. Yet several times during that pivotal game, Lucic just stood there. He looked beaten, like a man who knew he'd met his match and he had simply given up. I couldn't understand why the coach kept putting him back out on the ice, except that in the past, just when I'd counted him out he'd always come through. Only this time he didn't.

There was more to Espo's game than size and strength. He played with enormous heart. His competitive spirit was off the charts. In the end, it was that desire to get to that puck and score that made him one of the biggest stars of his day and the Bruins likely would not have won either of their two cups of that era without him. Yet, in their second cup victory over the Rangers, Esposito was a non factor. The Rangers countered Espo with a big center named Walt Tkaczuk, who pretty much shut Espo down. But that didn't stop Espo from trying, and even though he didn't score any goals, that battle in front of the net proved to be important to their winning the series. Imagine the effect on the rest of the team if Espo had just given up.

On the one hand, Lucic made himself felt throughout the series by always finishing his checks, something the rest of the team could have done a better job at. I ticked them off in my head, one after another. That sort of thing should wear another team down with time, but it seemed that it was Lucic who wore down instead. When it came to game seven, instead of making that really big hit that wakes up the team, or simply taking the puck to the net, he never truly made the effort. I wanted to see him at least try.

I'm not ready to give up on Lucic and call for him to be traded. But I think he needs to be called out. I don't ask for a Cup every year from my team. I only ask for them to battle to the end and to play with heart. I don't feel let down by the Bruins even though they didn't make it past the first round. But I do feel let down by Lucic. I would love to know what Neely thinks about his protege right now. I'd love to know what message Neely is sending him, either directly or through the coaching staff. It would not shock me to see him traded over the summer. But if Lucic comes back, there is little question in my mind that how he responds on the ice next season will determine his future with the team.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The End Comes Early

The end comes early to all but one team out of thirty. That is the bitter truth. All else being even, the odds of winning the cup at the start of the season are 30:1. Bruins fans should remember that what is truly out of the ordinary is to be the last team standing, not the abrupt end of a season.

Why did the Bruins lose to the Caps? You can run down your fingers making an impressive list of reasons, including injuries (Bergeron, Horton, McQuaid), inconsistent officiating, and less than stellar play from some key players, or simply pick one star player to dump all your anger onto because he never got up to speed or had a less than perfect game along the way (Lucic, Krejci, Thomas, or even Marchand).

Me? I personally blame one man, and one man alone, for the Bruins loss in this series: Dale Hunter. I knew from about half way through the first game that this series was going to be a tough one to win. Because Hunter, the Caps coach, designed a defensive system that would keep the Bruins off the board and frustrate their forwards. It was as if the Bruins were playing themselves at their defensive best. When it came right down to it, the two teams were a near perfect match. What we witnessed was the closest playoff series in NHL history, the first with six one goal games, and it eventually went to seven, only to end in overtime. When it comes right down to it, they could have skipped playing and simply flipped a coin.

When the playoffs started I did what I always do. I set my own personal goals for the team; I set the bar. Only if they didn't make the bar would I be bitterly disappointed, upset, or angry. My realistic expectations were simple: play hard and don't lose a series in less than seven games. Looking around, there are a lot of teams out there that could have been expected to achieve that goal, and didn't: Vancouver, San Jose, Detroit, Chicago, and Pittsburgh. Bruins fans: if you think it was painful to lose in OT in game seven, consider how it would feel to be dominated by the Kings, winning only a single playoff game.

I wish the Caps luck on winning the cup. I have no idea if they can beat any of the other teams remaining in the playoffs or if they were just the perfect Bruin killers. We will see. But they played very hard, showed a lot of grit, and didn't whine. For that, I give them a tip of my Bruins cap.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

How The Mighty Have Fallen

As we await game 7 vs. the Caps, looking around I see a bloodbath in the western conference and the makings of one in the east. All the teams in the west that were picked as favorites to win the cup have fallen: Vancouver in 5 to the Kings (how sweet is that B's fans?), San Jose in 5 to Saint Louis, Chicago in 6 to Phoenix, and Detroit in 5 to Nashville. None of these "great" teams even took it to the full seven games!

In the east, vaunted Pittsburgh has fallen to Philly in 6, and Boston and New York have each had to force a game 7 against Washington and Ottawa, respectively. Does anybody actually care about New Jersey and Florida? Didn't think so.

It is entirely possible that we will soon see every "top" team eliminated from the playoffs, which would leave a bizarre landscape. We already know that the Western Conference Final will be between either Nashville or Phoenix on one side, and either Los Angeles or Saint Louis on the other. Could it end up being either Ottawa or Washington on one side vs. New Jersey or Philadelphia on the other in the Eastern Conference Final? Or will one or both pre-playoff favorites (Boston and New York) survive?

Frankly, it is difficult for me to imagine Ottawa beating anybody in the playoffs. The one thing I knew for certain going in was that, should the Bruins play the Sens, the Bruins would win that series easily. To see the Rangers struggle against them boggles my mind. It certainly takes some of the edge off the Ranger's reputation.

One possibility is that the Rangers will fall and the Bruins will prevail. It would be tempting to think that the way had been cleared for a second cup with all the other "contenders" eliminated. But of course it doesn't work that way. Imagine the Bruins losing in the Cup Final to the Kings... it could happen!

On the other hand, consider a second round match-up between the Bruins and the Rangers. Now that I'd like to see!

But back to earth for a minute here. The Bruins are playing the Caps tonight in game 7. I was very impressed by the way the Caps battled in game 6. At times it looked like they were the ones facing elimination. Compared to them, the Bruins are hard to figure. The Bs effort level is inconsistent, yet it seems that inconsistency often works in their favor because they can punch it into that higher gear when they need to.

I thought the Caps sat back just a bit in the OT in game 6. All it took was one mistake and the Bruins made them pay. The fact that it was Backstrom who made that mistake does not bode well for the Bruins in game 7. He's been their best player in the series and he's going to be looking for redemption. On the other hand, a talented young player like Seguin on a roll can be an unstoppable force. Either team could win this. The biggest wild card is whether nor not the Bruins playoff magic that won them a Stanley Cup will continue.

So far we have seen Seguin step up to be the hero in game 6, Chara in game 3, and Kelly in game 1. Marchand was the Bruins best player in their game 5 loss and he needs to bring that same intensity again. His game has not consistently had the same edge since his bogus suspension. Perhaps it will be Marchand who steps up as the hero tonight. Or maybe it will be Lucic, Krejci, Rolston, or even Campbell. Can't wait to find out!

The one thing that seems certain is that Tim Thomas will be stellar in goal.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


As we await the start of game 6, I offer these minor observances.

Pierre Macguire is the guy stuck in the glass box between the benches during NBC coverage of Bruins games.

Here are the top four reasons Pierre Macguire is Annoying:
4. He thinks there is a Bruin named "Greg Kelly" 

3. He makes too much of line match-ups. While it is useful to know that Chara isn't out there against Ovechkin, his histrionics when this happens are over the top.

2. He continues to pronounce Chara as "Chaira." Just stop already. Maybe Big Z should skate by, "accidentally" with his elbow out...

1. He goes off on some wild unsupported theory and then never let's go even after it has become obvious to everyone else that he's off his rocker. Example: Lucic loses his temper too easily and the Caps are getting the best of him.

Other annoyances:

Now that NBC has the rights to every playoff game, NHL Center Ice can no longer carry a single one. They used to be able to carry local broadcasts for the first two rounds. That means no Jack and Brick for the playoffs, which takes a lot of the fun away. I'd call that more tragic than annoying, however. What I find annoying is that I am paying more than ever for Center Ice!

I have not seen a simple tag on the calf called as a slash since the lockout. Since that time it has been about getting the stick up on the hands or arm. So what the hell was that penalty about against the B's at the end of game 5?

How can I be the only person on the planet who sees the Caps constantly grabbing hold of Bruins sticks near their net? Is that not supposed to be a penalty? A Bruin with the puck drives along the wing, passing to the center who is crashing the net. The pass bounces past. Ok, so the defenseman did a great job tying him up. But look more closely and you will often find a hand pulling the Bruin's stick away from the puck. Since when are you allowed to do that? There have been similar instances during rebounds when Bruins are scrambling in front of the net. I think this is the main reason the Bruins haven't scored more goals. I know they allow players to get away with more in front of the net, but this looks like a return to the kind of "clutching and grabbing" we saw prior to the lockout. I for one don't like it.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Shock and Anger

Regular readers of this blog know that I am a die-hard fan of Tim Thomas. But I am not blind. My reaction to the winning goal by Washington was shock, followed by anger as time ran out. There is no way to sugar coat it; Tim Thomas let his team down at a critical moment when he failed to make that routine save. I have closely  watched Timmy's entire NHL career, and that was easily the worst non-save of his career. One thing that made it so unfortunate was how the rest of the team had once again found it within them to dig deeper once they were down 2 goals in the second period. It was an impresive display of what made them champs last year, only to be thrown away with that goal.

What happens next will determine Thomas' future with the club. As I have written before there are many Thomas doubters out there eager for an excuse to get rid of him. If the Bruins lose the series some people will forget the stellar GAA and the huge game-saving saves he has made, inluding several in this same game.

Hopefully it was just one of those unexplainable mistakes that every human makes from time to time and rather than undermine the team it will only make them all play harder.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Bruins are Made For the Playoffs

This new Bruins era takes a little getting used to. In the old days the regular season mattered. Hell, in some seasons it was all we got. Now that we live in the Post-Cup era the regular season seems little more than a very long, very tedious preseason. It seems clear that the fans aren't the only ones to see it this way; the Bruins are a team made for the playoffs, as are many of their star players. The ever-widening grin on Milan Lucic's face as we neared the season's end pretty much said it all.

It seems to me that the most impressive thing about these Bruins is the culture of the team; a proud, competitive culture where everyone has each-others back. This culture didn't happen overnight. It was grown and cultivated one win and one defeat at a time over the past 5 years. Ultimately it gives them the ability to take the initiative when the game is on the line, to snatch victory from defeat, and to battle back from disappointment. It brings the gift of the playoff gear. Some teams and some players don't have a playoff gear. The ultimate examples of that for me are Joe Thornton and the Sharks. Season after season they play hard and do well. But come playoff time they can't seem to take it to the next level. Every year some other team finds a way to elevate their game and eliminates them from the playoffs. All the while a player like Joe Thornton just plugs along, consistently playing well, but not finding that extra gear.

When I think of Milan Lucic I see the exact opposite of Joe Thornton. Thornton is consistent, Lucic is not. Lucic runs hot and cold, as do many of the Bruins. But when my team is down a goal with 2 minutes left in game 7 of the Cup final, I'd rather see Milan Lucic go over the boards than Joe Thornton. It is Lucic who will find that extra gear when the team needs it the most.

Tim Thomas is another example of the extra gear. In my view Timmy battles in order to not let down his team. That is what matters the most to him on the ice. If the game is on the line he always takes his play up another notch. There is no goaltender, past or present, who I'd be more comfortable with when the game was tied late or in OT. A lot of people get that, but what many don't seem to get is the other side of that same coin. Players say that a great save can inspire the team onward. I'm sure this is as true for Thomas as it is for any other goaltender. But the reverse is also true, and it seems obvious to me that it is even more true for Thomas. When he sees the team battling in front of him it makes him play all the better. But here's the thing I think people don't often get about him: when the team has a poor attitude and they aren't playing as hard as they should be, he too let's up. In order to play at his best Timmy needs to see the team working hard in front of him. They talk about a goaltender giving his team a chance to win and Thomas certainly does that. But before he can do that he needs the team to first give him the chance to win. This is why I don't blame Timmy when the team has a losing streak. To me, the correlation is obvious: poor play from the team around him often leads to less than stellar play of his own. Some might say that is a fault, and I suppose technically it is. It might be a critical fault if he played for a team that didn't work hard. On the other hand, the fact that he elevates his game along with the rest of the Bruins means that he too has the playoff gear. Tim Thomas, it seems, is also made for the playoffs.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Bruins Beat Ottawa with Five Hands Tied Behind Their Backs

In the second-to-last game of the season the Bruins walked away with a victory in Ottawa, against the team they will likely face in the first round of the playoffs. They did this without Thomas, Chara, Bergeron, or Boychuk, none of whom even went on the trip. Boychuk is nursing his knee and the others were given time to rest prior to the playoffs. Add to this Adam McQuaid, who played only 7 minutes because he "didn't feel right" and this was hardly the same Bruins team. Although the game did not have a lot of meaning for Ottawa either, it's not like they rolled over and played dead. To tell the truth I didn't expect the Bruins to put this one in the win column.

One reason for the win is the surprisingly good play of recent acquisition Torey Krug, who tallied his first NHL point. This young defenseman, who recently signed as a free agent out of college, looks like he has a lot of NHL potential. It is somewhat of a mystery how he wasn't drafted, but he would not be the first excellent NHL player to fall through that particular crack. Some people are simply late bloomers. Once again it appears that the Bruins front office has pulled off another smart acquisition. It didn't hurt that Krug wanted to play for the Bruins, but that too is a result of the leadership from the front office.

The main reason the Bruins won this game was the debut of Anton Khudobin in goal. When backup goaltender Tukka Rask went down a few weeks ago it was Khudobin's chance at prime time. But coincidentally, Khudobin had also been injured, leading to the desperate acquisition of Marty Turco to fill in. Khudobin, now recovered, made the best of his chance last night. I liked his quickness and especially his intensity, which did remind me a bit of Thomas. He has a way to go, however. His play seemed a bit "raw"; his positioning wasn't always that good and his rebound control nearly got him into trouble on several occasions. Regardless, I think this kid may one day be a very good NHL goalie.

One thing is for certain: with this one good showing some in the Boston media are going to anoint Khudobin as the "next Tim Thomas" and prematurely celebrate him as yet another "goaltender of the future." We will, no doubt, have to suffer through articles in the New England media about how the Bruins should trade Thomas over the summer, regardless of how well he and the team do in the playoffs. Mark my words. The Thomas haters in the media live for the day they can run him out of town.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Time Has Run Out

They say that the major part of winning in hockey is mental, and right now the Boston Bruins are definitely "mental."

The Bruins have now lost four in a row. This is a team that only just a few months ago won ten games in a row, most in blowouts, and scored 15 goals in just two back to back games. So much has gone wrong since then. To begin with, I think it was too much too soon, particularly after coming off a cup win. Teams who win that easily in the regular season often get bounced in the playoffs by a low seed. Even in the midst of their spectacular play the seeds of doubt were being sown. When the Canucks came to town the Bruins lost to them. When they measured themselves against the Rangers, the Bruins always fell short. For a team that was playing primarily for pride, these losses mattered. Then there were the injuries, followed by the addition of several new players at the trade deadline. Add to this the media frenzy over Thomas' snub of the President, which created a distraction, and the mental garbage started to pile up. In my estimation, by the way, this was about 50% Timmy's fault for the snub and 50% the fault of the media for turning it into a big deal. If neither had selfishly indulged themselves it wouldn't have been an issue.

In recent weeks other teams fighting for playoff spots have been sharpening their game and playing with desperation, but the Bruins literally had nothing to play for. They were stuck in second place in the conference with no way to catch the Rangers and the seemingly hapless Senators being the only real threat from below. Predictably, their play slipped and the losses started to mount. As their momentum stalled and doubt began to set in it became harder to turn things around. Pucks started bouncing the wrong way. Empty nets were missed. So now, after beating their heads against the glass and getting nothing for it except frustration, the Bruins are, in the words of Thomas, "tired."

As a result, people first became worried that the Bruins might not be ready for a cup run when the time came. Then they started to wonder if the Bruins could beat any team in the first round. This morning, we have to face the possibility that the Bruins will lose their lead in the division and the No. 2 seed to the Sens. This would put the B's dangerously close to the bottom of the playoff pack, with the looming specter of missing the playoffs entirely.

If the Bruins fail to make the playoffs it will go down as a monumental collapse, right up there with losing four straight to Philly after taking a 3-0 series lead. We aren't talking historical Bruins collapse here, we're talking historical NHL collapse. People will call for change; players will be dealt, the coach may be fired. Some unhappy people seem to revel in that sort of thing, but it would be a real shame to see this happen. This team has another cup in them.

Time has now officially run out. The time to turn things around has come. The Bruins have something to play for and it is time for them to take charge of their future. The playoffs start now. It is time for them to put all the little things together; to play consistently better defense, to punish their opponents physically, to bury their chances. If they were to put a string of wins together now, not only will they be back in the second seed, but suddenly they will feel a lot less tired.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Jumping Off the Band Wagon

Do you hear that sound? That's the sound of the bandwagon jumpers jumping off, proudly led by flag bearers in the Boston media like Stephen Harris, and they want blood. But inexplicably the blood they want is not the blood of the Habs or the Canucks, but of Tim Thomas.

Today Harris wrote:
"But Turco’s performance in the final weeks could also be meaningful for next season. If the 36-year-old demonstrates he can still play effectively, it’s possible he could be re-signed to be part of a tandem with Tuukka Rask.That, of course, assumes that Thomas, whose no-movement clause expires this summer, would be dealt."
Why would anyone who wants to see the Bruins succeed be looking forward to Thomas being dealt? It boggles the mind. I like Tukka just fine, but I liked Andrew Raycroft too. Neither is in the same league as Thomas, without whom the Bruins could not have won the Cup.

If you look at this little blog of mine, you will see that I have been here for the long haul. Although I didn't start this blog right away, my dedication to the 2011/2012 Bruins didn't begin during the Cup Final last spring, like it did for so many New Englanders. It started seven years ago, at the end of the lockout in 2005. I have seen a lot over these years, both the ups and the downs. I remember Savvy's Rally Caps and a goaltender who came out of nowhere. I remember players like Wayne Premeau, Glen Metropolit, Marco Sturm and the coaching tenure of Dave Lewis. Starting in the 2005/2006 season I have watched almost every single game. That's well over 500 games. I vividly recall forcing myself to watch games even after the Bruins were eliminated from the playoffs. It was so tempting to fast forward, but I didn't. Fact is that so many other blogs have disappeared over the years that I finally gave up on updating the list of other blogs I read. But I'm still here.

More importantly I also remember what it was like before the lockout. I remember an owner who refused to play the game of paying top dollar for players. I recall seeing supposed future Bruins greats go on the trading block, even the team captain. I remember how Joe Thornton was thrust into a role that didn't suit him. But most of all, I remember a team that could not beg buy or steal consistently great goaltending, all the way back to the cup years in the early 70's. Even then, Cheevers and Johnston weren't exactly future goaltending legends. If they were, why don't their numbers hang from the rafters? Moog, Ranford, Lacher, Carey, Raycroft... they never seemed to pan out and when they did they didn't last. In fact, you have to go all the way back to the early years of the Bruins to find truly great goaltenders. In his first season in 1938 Frank Brimseck led the league in wins, shutouts, and GAA. He would help the team win the cup in 1941 and even though WWII intervened, he stayed with the B's until 1949. Going back even further, the Bruins had won the cup in 1929 with the premier goaltender of his time, Tiny Thompson. Here's the thing: I am utterly convinced that Tim Thomas is the greatest of these Bruins greats.

When I started this blog it was for one reason. I was tired of being laughed at when I posted about how good I thought Tim Thomas was on various forums or in blog comments. They said it over and over, "Tim Thomas is not a true No. 1 goaltender." But I knew better. Nobody seemed to be able to see what I saw in Thomas, and let's be clear: I saw the best Bruins goaltender of my lifetime. Not only did people not see how good he was, but some seemed to outright hate him, and to this day I don't understand why.

Our Bruins--my Bruins--won the cup last year. Tim Thomas won the Vezina and was the MVP of the playoffs. I say this because it seems some people have already forgotten. You would think that the Boston media would be behind Thomas. You would think that he would have earned some trust and respect. You would think he would be valued. But now that the Bruins are self destructing on the eve of the playoffs, its right back to the same old Thomas hate only now they have their ready excuse. Now that Timmy's politics are out in the open, writers like Stephen Harris of the Herald are free to hate him simply because they don't agree with his politics. And let's be clear on that--people have reached for all sorts of wild unsupported theories for how Timmy's politics have hurt the team, but that's all smoke. The reality is that some very narrow minded people just can't stand the idea that Thomas' politics are different from their own. There's a word for that; it's intolerance.

It's so easy to blame the goaltending when a team plays poorly. Anybody can play that game; you don't have to know anything about goaltending to play it. If the puck goes in the net, it's the goaltender's fault, right? But that's a loser's game to play. Fact is, if these Thomas haters finally get their way and run Timmy out of town on rails, mark my words, Rask will be next. No matter how good he is technically, Rask can't bring the same compete level that Thomas does. Truth is, nobody can. This will become painfully obvious the day after Thomas leaves the Bruins.

The Bruins have a great organization, from top to bottom, from the President and GM to the goaltenders. They have an amazing core group of players in Thomas, Chara, Bergeron, Seguin, and Lucic. They have great coaching. They have outstanding depth that has been built by leveraging the fact that players want to play in Boston. They have talent coming up in the system. Truth is, you can't ask for more. What they have not had this year is what they had in spades last season: desire and luck. Even if the Bruins exit in the first round, both of these will come around naturally in time because of all the other things they have going for them.

People who are bitterly disappointed when their teams don't win a championship every year are being unrealistic. Those who would dismantle a team that has proven itself to be great  because they have had a rough streak or perhaps don't win back to back championships are idiots.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Why Does the Media Hate Tim Thomas?

Tim Thomas has never been a favorite of the local media and I am beginning to wonder what is truly at the root of it. When he first came up to the Bruins he was underestimated for sure. Many in the media, for whom the only way they can tell if a goaltender is any good is by his stats or how famous his name is, immediately wrote Thomas off as a No. 2. When he succeeded they only accepted it grudgingly. Articles were still written about how the team needed to get a true number one, even after anyone else would have proven himself. The call to replace him became so strong that the GM actually did replace him with Fernandez. The predictable result was that Thomas won out the No. 1 anyhow, winning the Vezina trophy in the process. Yet every trade deadline until last year involved the media claiming Thomas could be traded. When the Bruins were knocked out of the playoffs in 2009 by the Canes the media blamed him personally. In the summer of 2010 the media was abuzz with news that Thomas would be traded to the leafs with a sickening sort of glee. Imagine if that rumored trade had gone through. Does anyone really believe that the Bruins would have won the cup anyhow? When Thomas had a bad season in 2009-2010 due to an injury, the media wrote of Tukka Rask as if he were the second coming. For some reason that I cannot fathom Rask has never been held up to the same scrutiny as Thomas. Never. He's always the golden boy, always above scrutiny. Now that Thomas has won the Vezina again, a Stanley Cup, and was the playoff MVP for God's sake, the media still won't give him a break. Why?

Is it because he doesn't look like an athlete? Are they that superficial? Thomas once told a story about how an old friend had contacted him after winning the Cup. His friend told him that he was surprised how well he'd played for someone who "wasn't that athletic." What an absurd statement. But this is what Thomas has had to put up with.

Is it because they resent being wrong about Thomas in the first place? Are they that pathetic, that they lay in wait for the time when they can kick him when he's down so they can feel they were right all along?

Has it always been because of his politics? We endured weeks of ugly complaints after Thomas decided to snub the President. Sure, it was not the smartest thing for Thomas to do. But the media clearly over reacted. Some in the media even suggested that it marked the end of Thomas with the Bruins. Others implied that his politics were hurting the team. In that irony that the media always pretends to be unaware of, it did become an issue with the team. But only because the media made such a big deal out of it and would not let it go.

Or is it something even more sinister? Is this really about old world thinking, about social class and knowing one's "place?" Do they not accept Thomas because he came from meager beginnings, was never anointed as the golden boy at any level, never supposed to succeed? Does it rub the elite New England media the wrong way merely because he defied their expectations? Does his success threaten their elitist world view?

Recently the Bruins played the Rangers in a tough fought game. One headline read, "Thomas was good when the Bruins needed him to be great." While not unfair in its assessment, one has to wonder why this was chosen as the primary story. Tough Loss on Tim Thomas, flat out blamed Thomas for single-handedly losing the game. Sure, maybe Thomas would have made that final save 99 times out of 100. But that does not excuse the hate! They give him no quarter, no benefit of the doubt. Why?

The fact is that Tukka Rask single-handedly lost several games in recent months. He went through a period where he was playing very well in close, but giving up surprising goals at important times from the face-off circles. He was even pulled from one game. Not one article or comment was made in the media about this. Not one. Nobody suggested that he might not be the Bruins "Goaltender of the Future." Nobody suggested that he should be traded. The media simply refused to make it a story. Why?

I'm going to make a prediction here and now about Rask. Although I think he will one day be a a very good goaltender it will be with another team. When that day finally comes when Thomas is no longer a Bruin we will be rudely reminded of just how important it is to have great goaltending. I remember what that's like all too well, and I am not looking forward to that day.

As far as I'm concerned this hate for Thomas from the media is nothing short of ridiculous, regardless of the reason. The good news is that this media hate can only make Thomas play better, assuming that he isn't fighting some sort of behind the scenes injury again. For those of us who's only agenda is good hockey and another cup, that will have to be enough.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Spirit is Back in Saint Louis

The Bruins of the fall of 2011 made a rare appearance in Saint Louis last night. I almost didn't recognize them it's been so long.

The Bruins started out like they have started in every other game lately, with a good strong effort. I can just imagine coaches around the NHL telling their teams to bend but not break in the early going as the B's come on hard; weather the storm and then get an opportunistic goal and you can beat these guys. But this time there was a difference. The B's effort was rewarded with an early Marchand goal. Before you knew it, it was 2-0 and the B's were looking lucky for a change.

But then the Bruins started to fall apart defensively, as we have come to expect of late. Even Tim Thomas looked a bit off and the next thing you know it was all tied up. But late in the period the Bruins broke with their recent habits yet again. Rather than give up a goal late in the period they scored one!

In the second the Bruins finally remembered how to play good team defense. They didn't get a lot of scoring opportunities, but they took charge in their own end. By the end of the second, they were starting to look like their old selves again defensively.

I don't know what was up with Thomas! He was wildly throwing his body around in the same way that he did three years ago, causing many a commentator to pull out his hair. But it seemed to work, just as it had then (he won the Vezina that year).

It was in the third period that the Bruins finally got all the way back to their dominating form. Building off their good defensive play, they started getting chances the other way. Marchand scored again to extend their lead to two, and they kept the pressure on for most of the rest of the period.

Some things to note: the Bruins scored four goals against the stingiest team in the NHL, a team that has allowed just 1.9 goals per game. The Blues were also 26-4-4 at home, and last lost at home in regulation Dec. 3.

This game reminds us of what some of the more fickle fans and media types had so quickly forgotten. The Bruins are an elite team. Even with the injuries and poor recent performances, this team can dominate. It is normal for teams to lose their focus at certain points during the season. What truly matters is what happens at playoff time.

Some fans seem to go a bit crazy as the trade deadline looms. Sure the Bruins have cap space and sure they could use some more depth. But what some people seem to have forgotten is that at this time of year you don't get something for nothing. Obtaining a Rick Nash would mean giving up Bergeron and/or Rask or last year's first rounder at the very least. There is just no way that makes any sense. Not only would that not truly help the team, but it isn't consistent with the approach that Bruins GM Peter Chiarelly has used to build his team. It takes real hubris to second guess a guy who built a Stanley Cup champion.

When I look at the Bruins I see a team that can go deep in the playoffs. The one thing I think they are missing is a player like Mark Recchi who can stand in front of the net to force those close-in garbage goals. That is an essential element of a champion team. But that does not mean that a player like Bergeron or Marchand can't perform this role if called upon. As always, in the end how far they go this year will depend on how much they want it.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Steven Harris is an Idiot

Yeah, I know the subject line is a bit over the top. I'm usually more restrained than that. But the guy deserves to be called an idiot for writing this article.

In the article Mr. Harris suggests that the Bruins need to trade someone in order to "wake them up." This after a run of mediocre play in mid-season, something every team goes through, even championship teams like the Bruins; and after a single poor game that came on the heels of an impressive come from behind victory.

If there were an award for jumping ship at the first squeak of a tiny mouse in the hold, Mr. Harris would be a sure thing. It's clear that Mr. Harris doesn't give a crap about the team, the players, or even winning. He just needs something to write about.

After all, you can't get something for nothing. There is cap space to consider and how another player would affect the room. Not that Harris gives a crap about any of that.

I also suspect Harris wants to keep the silly rumors going about trading Thomas. This is his underhanded way to do that because that's what he really wants to write about but his editor knows that everyone is tired of the subject.

About Thomas... anybody out there really watch the games? Statistics don't tell the whole story. Fact is Tim Thomas wins games by keeping the Bruins in it until the end. This is something Rask, even though he has played very well, often fails to do. As they say, it's not just allowing goals but when you allow them. If the Bruins want to win another Stanley Cup, that right there could be the difference.

Perhaps its time the Herald woke up and considered trading columnists.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Two Days in January (21/22)

Two days: two games, 3 points in the standings, 16 goals, 4 fights, 109 penalty minutes, a natural hat trick, and a three game suspension. That about sums it up.

Sundays game vs. Philly was sloppy, but they won anyhow. I expected it to be bad, given the tough game and loss the day before. In fact, I claimed after the Rangers game that if the Bruins beat the Flyers the next day that would be a sign of an elite team.

The main event was Saturday's game vs. the Rangers. I am very much looking forward to the rest of the season series with them. In fact, I wish the Bruins could play the Rangers more. One of the things I don't like about the proposed re-alignment is that the Bruins would only play the Rangers twice per year.

The Rangers are very impressive--easily the best team the Bruins have faced all year. When you compare them to the Canucks, the Canucks don't come off looking very well. The Rangers are everything the Canucks are not: tough and straight ahead. It was a pleasure to lose to them.

I must say that I felt the Bruins were marginally the better team. Although Rask played very well, particularly in OT, both regulation goals against the Bruins were a bit on the soft side. The Rangers didn't have to work for their goals in the same way the Bruins did.

About the Ference suspension... in short I thought he deserved punishment but three games seems too harsh. The way the Bruins used their defensemen in this game was really rather astounding. I can't recall seeing them lead the rush deep into the offensive zone so often before. It wasn't an accident that both goals were scored by defensemen. But I believe that is what lead to the reckless hit. Ference is usually on the other side in that situation (being chased into the corner at high speed in the offensive zone), which is why he should be the first one to recognize that the hit was extremely reckless. After all, that could be him hitting the boards next time. But he also isn't often in this position. Ference was having probably his best game of the year and had scored an important goal. I think he went into the corner trying to play right to the edge and crossed the line. Nevertheless, McDonaugh wasn't even injured, which seems to matter to the league, and Ference is not a repeat offender. So three games seems like throwing the book at him. It would seem to me that one or two games would have made the leagues point just as well. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

More on the Marchand Hit

After sleeping on it I have some more, perhaps less biased, observations about the Marchand hit and its aftermath.

It seems clear to me that the position of Marchand and the Bruins organization that he was simply defending himself is, well, indefensible. Marchand saw an opportunity to throw a hip check at Salo designed to toss him onto the ice in spectacular fashion. But he did so dangerously with what was clearly a clip.

Also, Claude Julien said that, "In my opinion, if guys start protecting themselves the way Marchand did, maybe guys will stop taking runs at other guys because that’s the consequences you end up paying for taking runs at guys, too.”

I hate to agree with Vignault, but this really was a dumb thing to say. It is clear to everyone who has looked carefully at the video that Salo didn't take a run at Marchand. Even if he had, it was still a dumb thing to say.

I must also say that I really like how Shanahan makes these videos explaining the league's decisions when a suspension is handed out. Here is the one about Marchand.


That said, I still think some things about this suspension stink. First off, I don't like the use of the term predatory. It implies the intent to injure. I do not believe that Marchand wanted to injure Salo. I think he wanted to make a spectacular hit, and being smaller than Salo, some sort of hip check was his best option. Others may disagree, but that is in fact my point. We cannot know what his intentions were. Therefore intentions have no place in these disciplinary actions. It follows that it is unfair for the league to label this as a predatory hit.

Second, I don't believe a suspension should depend on whether or not the other player was injured. I am not alone in this. Many others have spoken out about this absurd practice by the league. Punish the infraction, not the result. It is my belief that Marchand and Salo could replay this hit a hundred times and 95 times Salo either bounces off or lands harmlessly on the ice. The way the two players came together Salo landed on his head, which was unfortunate. This is one of the reasons clipping is dangerous and should be penalized. But to not suspend other players for the exact same move simply because nobody got hurt is inconsistent. The result is that the Marchand suspension can legitimately be seen by Bruins fans as too arbitrary.

Lastly, there were some regrettable things that were said in the media yesterday by people connected with the Bruins organization. I think they should take a long hard look at themselves and in the future not be baited into this sort of debate. If you hear yourself saying, "I usually don't like to comment on these things," then for goodness sake stop right there!

Consider what was said when Marchand was suspended last spring for an elbow to the head. Afterward Julien said, "You hope the player learns from it. You have to respect what the league is trying to do and not be hypocritical. We looked at the play with him a few times and made sure he saw what had happened there, so he could understand it. Hopefully he learns from it and is a little more careful in regards to those head hits. We don’t think there’s any need for it in the game, so we all have to be aware of that. If we’re going to clean it up as coaches, you’ve got to be supportive of it and you’ve got to help those players through that as well.”

That was clearly taking the high road. It was taking responsibility for what happened. Why didn't that happen this time? It doesn't excuse what the Bruins said, but I believe that had the Canucks organization simply said, "We don't comment on league discipline matters" things would have been very different. One of the more difficult things to do in life is to remain  above it all rather than stoop to the level of your opponent when they have no class. The Bruins failed to do this. The Canucks should have taken the high road and turned their attention to their next game versus the Panthers rather than create a media circus. Who knows, maybe they would have even beaten them. In short, I still think they are a bunch of whiners and their success in bringing the Bruins down to their level only makes it all the worse.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Great Teams Do Their Talking On the Ice

I recently praised the Vancouver Canucks in this space for playing a solid, tough game against the Bruins. That was on the ice. But recent comments made by various people associated with the Canucks organization have once again proved them to be a bunch of pathetic whiners.

The comments were made prior to the hearing regarding Marchand's hit on Salo in an apparent attempt to influence the results. This, when they won't even be playing the Bruins again this season. So why care so much?

Perhaps the worst comment was made by their coach, Vigneault, who had this to say: "Marchand – and this is just my feeling – but some day he’s going to get it. Some day, someone’s going to say ‘enough is enough’ and they’re going to hurt the kid because he plays to hurt players. And if the league doesn’t care, somebody else will.”

I have watched every game Marchand has ever played in the NHL save one or two. How many games has Vigneault seen him play in? A dozen? How is it that I missed seeing Marchand trying to hurt players? For that matter, how is it that the league has failed to punish him for all these attempts he has made to hurt players in the past? Not only is this nothing more than sad, sour grapes, but it is the worst kind. Vigneault sounds like my 13 year old when he's trying to get his 11 year old brother in trouble. What a class act.

The thing about whiners is that they think the world hasn't given them everything they think they deserve. They make excuses for their failures rather than take responsibility for them. They think the blame always lies with everyone but themselves. They think its Ok to break a window or burn a car just because they didn't get what they wanted. They think... like losers.

And they are.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Finally, a Worthy Opponent

A lot has already been written about the Bruins vs. Canucks and everyone seems to have a different perspective. This is my spot to share my own, and from what I've been reading I'll probably tick more than a few fellow fans off with it. Oh well.

It was great to see the Bruins face a team they could measure themselves against. As everyone knows, since November 1st the Bruins have been not just beating, but utterly destroying, most opponents. The Bruins have scored six or more goals eleven times. And in the two previous games they outscored their opponents 15-1. The good times have been rolling for some time now, but it is only fun for so long to see games end after the first three minutes. Looking ahead to the games in the new year my attention was drawn to the ones  that might actually be close, and the Vancouver game was the first on the list. Sure, the Bruins did lose a couple since November began, but no offense to Dallas et al, this was because the Bruins didn't come to play.

So I got the challenge I wanted. Truth be told, the Vancouver Canucks were the first team the Bruins have played this season that I felt was good enough to truly make the game interesting. The result was determined as much by the officiating as anything else, so I look on it as a sort of tie, or better: the first game in a long series. Vancouver did earn the first win, I can't take that away from them, but the Bruins would hardly be counted out if this was the first of a seven game series. Before Vancouver fans get too excited, they should consider that playing most the game without Looch and losing Marchand late, who was playing very well, was like tying one hand behind their back. That represents the loss of chemistry on two of the Bruins best lines.

My view is that the Bruins are a better team this year than they were last year. But here's the part that's going to ire my fellow fans: I think it's pretty clear that Vancouver is better too. Or if not better, they are at least tougher. Speaking about the Canucks in this article, Dan Shaunessy claimed, "They are posers and floppers, arrogant and cowardly." Then he went on to describe all the fighting and rough play. This comment may make him popular among Bruins fans, but to be perfectly honest it doesn't accurately describe what I saw during the game. What I saw was a Canucks team eager to prove they were tough and, unlike a few other teams that have tried the same in the Garden, they handled themselves quite well. So cudos from me where they are due.

I'm not going to claim that the referees were biased, but it is clear they made a lot of mistakes. I would very much like someone to explain to me how three Canucks can jump on a pair of players who are fighting and that's not being the third man in. When I saw those white jerseys fly-in I thought I was having a flashback to the 70's! That sort of thing simply isn't allowed today, or so I thought. For the officials to send Lucic out of the game instead, something that the league has now admitted was a mistake, was simply confounding. I still don't get it. I know that the situation was difficult for the officials, but this seemed pretty basic.

All this was made much worse by the fact that I was forced to watch the Vancouver broadcast because the NHL network decided to show the game nationwide exclusively. This begs another question: why have I never once seen the NHL network pick up the NESN broadcast? Not once. Is this some sort of contractual thing? It sure doesn't seem fair to this distant Bruins fan. But I digress. The Vancouver coverage appeared at first glance to be professional, better than what I am forced to watch from some of the other markets. But they seemed oddly uninformed. They never told us what the full penalties were in the first period so I just had to wonder if anyone other than Lucic was ejected. And they didn't even get that right, claiming that he'd only been given a 10-minute misconduct. What really amazed me was when they returned for the second period and admitted that they still didn't know what the penalties were. It made me wonder why they didn't just have someone ask the official score keeper. Or for that matter use their phone to look it up on for heaven's sake! They also went on and on about a supposedly missed icing call that supposedly led to a Bruins goal. Even their between-periods analysts called them on this, rightly pointing out that the icing was in fact waved off and it was the Canucks turnover that actually led to the goal.

The same thing happened when Marchand was given the five-minute major. Nothing was said at the time about a misconduct. They only mentioned much later that the Bruins were "without Marchand." Their whole broadcast seemed like that: just two stuffy old guys jabbering about whatever came into their heads rather than having actual information to pass on to the viewers.

Anyhow, about the Marchand hit. My feeling is that although he clearly didn't intend to hurt anyone, his reaction was of questionable judgement. It was a borderline dangerous choice. I thought a 5 minute major was pretty much deserved. This was no different from charging or leaving your feet to make a hit. And it did, after all, lose the Bruins the game. But I don't believe the misconduct, much less a possible suspension, are warranted. If you watch the video, note the position of his leg. Marchand was in fact very lucky not to have suffered a severe injury himself. If he had been the one hurt, would they have penalized the other guy? I'm not one to claim the NHL is being wussified. I support the attempts to protect the players from concussions. But there is a point where you have to say that sometimes things just happen. I know some Canucks fans think Marchand is some sort of goon, but they are wrong. He doesn't have a history of reckless hits. Think of all those times that players have been dumped over the boards into the bench over the years. It's always highlight reel stuff. Isn't this pretty much the same thing? Are we going to start handing out penalties for dumping players over the boards too?