Sunday, October 5, 2014

Boychuck Trade Hard to Swallow

It seems I spoke too soon in my last post. It seemed reasonable to assume that the Bruins were done making major changes, given that they were under the salary cap (assuming Savard is once again placed on long-term injured reserve). My assumption was that the Bruins would shake out their best younger defensemen and either let the ones that didn't make the cut go, or find some clever way to keep them around.

Boychuck was not some last-minute pick-up who filled in on the third D pair. He was mostly a  product of the Bruins organization, he had come to fully understand the system, and he wanted to be a Bruin. Last season, with Siedenberg and McQuaid out, he was the second best defenseman on the team--a role he took on in the playoffs with enormous heart.

So not only are the Bruins a worse team without him, but they gave up one of our own. And for what? Why? That's the big question. I'm not going to presume to know the answer. Maybe Savard is planning to take a coaching job or something, and placing him on IR was iffy. Maybe capgeek simply has their numbers wrong and Chiarelli was still over the cap. We can only hope that there is some clever reason, rather than this being the result of Chiarelli putting himself into a corner.

I watched the press briefing one more time and Chiarelli did appear to explain why he made the trade; it was just in his usual understated style, which can easily be mistaken for being intentionally vague. It seems that Boychuck was traded because his contract was up at the end of the season and Chiarelli didn't want him to walk away to a big payday with the Bruins getting nothing in return. This, after all, something that Chiarelli has been criticized for in the past. There are a lot of players to sign at the end of this season, including Campbell, Paille, Soderberg, McQuiad and Bartkowski. I think his mention of making other moves will likely involve several of these players.

This is a new era with new and different challenges for Chiarelli. He showed that he could build a Stanley Cup team. Now he has to figure out the tricky balancing act between high-quality veterans, who are expensive, and the young inexperienced players who are coming up through the system.He has to do this, not only from the cold perspective of balance sheets, but with the understanding that the respect he shows players has an effect on how they play as a team.

Whatever the reason, it is difficult to swallow. I'm going to miss Boychuck and I can't help but feel that the Bruins chances for another cup just got longer.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Thank You Peter Chiarelli

This has been a tough summer to be a Bruins fan, unless you managed not to read any articles or blog posts about the team. It started when the salary cap numbers were released for this year and they were a lot less than some had hoped for. Anyone looking at the numbers knew that Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli was "between a rock and a hab place" (sorry). Ahem.

There was little chance that the entire roster could be retained, and many fans wanted to see superstar Jarome Iginla, who was at the end of a one-year deal, continue with the team. A vocal minority of fans seemed prepared to see much of the rest of the team gutted in order to do so.

The first move came when Chiarelli announced that the Bruins were not going to re-sign tough guy Shawn Thornton. This was sad, given the important role he has played for the team, and how he has put his health on the line time and again by being willing to fight. Bruins fans love a guy like that, and it would have seemed almost unimaginable for the Bruins to turn him loose just a year ago. But that was before he embarrassed the Bruins with his antics in the playoffs against Montreal, squirting his water bottle at PK Subban from the bench and then grinning like a fool. If these antics had worked and gotten under the Hab's skin, that would have been one thing, but the way it happened just made Thornton look  childish and stupid. It was poor judgement, just like earlier in the season when he embarrassed the entire league by taking down Brooks Orpik from behind and beating him senseless. It should have come as no surprise to anyone that he'd be let go, particularly when there are so many young players looking to break into the lineup.

The tension mounted as we got closer to Free Agency. Would Iginla choose to take a discount to stay with the Bruins, where he had fit in so well, and where he might win another cup? Or would he take the big bucks behind door number 12? In the end, Chiarelli would have had to give up one or two established players or young prospects, like Tory Krug, to keep him, and he seemed reluctant to do so. Iginla ended up signing a three-year contract with the Avalanche worth $16 million.

Even with Iginla out of the picture Chiarelli was still in a huge bind. It seemed to many that he had a clear choice: keep his veterans like Boychuk and McQuaid, or keep his promising upstarts like Krug, Miller and Spooner. Surely he couldn't keep them all; there simply was not enough room under the cap. Some vocal fans called for the Bruins to give up on long term project Jordan Caron, or even Chris Kelly, whose importance as a penalty killer seemed to have been forgotten. At this point I have to say that the state of sports "journalism" today is really quite pathetic. All summer I kept seeing stories from bloggers on sites such as  Bleacher Report  or Causeway Crowd, with misleading headlines that promised actual news, but delivered only uninformed speculation by amateur writers. Many of these guys seem to have forgotten that they are neither journalists nor experienced hockey experts. To make matters worse, the Boston Globe seems to have decided to try to beat these idiots at their own game by hiring sports writers with similarly big heads, such as  Eric Wilbur, who thinks he knows more about the game and Ryan Spooner than an NHL coach who has won a Frakin' Stanley Cup. At one time he wrote that the reason the Bruins lost to the Habs in the playoffs was that the Bruins, who had the third most goals in the regular season, have no scoring touch.  He also went on to expound that the main reason the Bruins won the cup in 2011 was Tyler Seguin. Like I said, it's been a long summer. (note: to their credit they seem to have taken the original story down and replaced it with a slightly less idiotic video).

And yeah, I blog about the Bruins too, and have opinions, but I try never to pretend to know better than the guys who are paid to run the team. Even if they totally sucked as GMs and coaches, and ran the team into the ground, they'd still know far more about the game than I do.

Anyhow, with the recent signing of holdouts Krug and Smith, Peter Chiarelli has somehow managed to pull a rabbit out of his hat and keep everyone. Not only that, but along the way he tied up David Krejci for the next 6 years. Pretty Impressive. From the fans point of view this is great news. Sure, Krug and Smith got screwed. They bore the brunt of keeping the team together and Chiarelli squeezed them hard. It may be that one or the other or both might resent the way they have been treated enough to end up playing somewhere else one day, but it also may be forgotten in the long run, particularly if Chiarelli makes it up to them in a future contract.

Next time: why I think the Bruins have an even better chance of winning the cup this time around.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Morning After

Ok, so it's not exactly the morning after the Bruins loss to the Habs in game 7. But that morning, I didn't really feel like thinking about hockey at all, much less writing about the Bruins. This loss hurt more than any in recent memory.

But I did just finish watching the final episode of Behind the B, so what I would have said at the time has all come rushing back.

I believe the Bruins lost their composure during this series, and in game 7 in particular. In the final episode of Behind the B Claude Julien is overheard yelling from behind the bench early in the series. "Come on! Have they got under your skin?" he asked. In the end, I think they did.

It's also pretty clear that the Habs wanted very badly to beat the Bruins. In a certain emotional sense, it seemed they wanted to beat the Bruins more than even win the Cup, and I am sure that by now they are taking some solace in their defeat of the Bs after their Conference Final loss to the Rangers. That's the problem with everyone expecting you to win the cup; the battles along the way are just that. For the Habs, who have been somewhat humiliated by the Bruins in recent years, this series meant a lot more than just another step toward the Cup.

I think the Habs did get under their skin. It showed in the Bruins' play, whether it be the missed opportunities in the offensive zone or the break downs in front of their own net. As an example, it's a very fine line between blocking a shot and screening your goaltender, and the Bruins crossed this line rather uncharacteristically. On one goal, even Big Z was caught standing right in front of Rask, something he hasn't done since the start of the 2013 season. Even worse, how else do you explain the Bruins coming out flat in the first period of game 7, at home, in front of a roaring crowd? Something was clearly wrong in their psyche.

I think the key moment to the Habs victory in the series came off the ice, when Suban was asked about the racist tweets after game one, and he responded with so much class that even Bobby Orr would have stood up and applauded. But while that was going on off the ice, the usual shenanigans were occurring on it. I am sure that every Bruin felt that the Habs were the guys wearing the black hats in this series, but it seemed like the world -- and the referees -- saw it the other way around. This even continued after the game, when Weise took potshots at the Bruins for Lucic's unsportsmanlike behavior in the hand shake line. Lucic had every right to be angry at Weise for those comments. Weise should have laughed it off, been a good winner, and moved on. But he got away with it. It was Lucic who was ultimately seen as the guy in the black hat. Now, I'm not condoning what Lucic did. I'm just pointing out how thoroughly the Bruins lost the upper hand in the good guy vs. bad guy department. Some Penguin and Hab fans may be astonished at the idea, but despite the whole "Big Bad" thing, the Bruins are used to seeing themselves as the good guys. When they start to question this, somewhere in the back of their heads, that's when the other team has gotten under their skin.

Another aspect of this whole PR thing is the bizarre behavior of the referees, particularly in game 7. I'm not going to claim that the officiating lost the Bruins the series, because a great team will rise up to the challenge, kill off the penalty, or simply not be in a position for a penalty kill to end their season. But that said, the officiating in this game was the most influential I have ever seen in all my 43 years of being a fan. Given the way the series had gone, everyone who was paying attention knew that the first goal was going to be huge, particularly if the Habs scored it. So when Markov cross checked Marchand into Price early in the first period, it was monumental when the referee Dave Jackson called Marchand for goaltender interference. Watching the replay from any angle, it is wholly inexcusable that he did so. You could not watch that play, see the interference, yet not see the push. If anyone should have gone to the box, it should have been Markov. When the Habs scored on the ensuing power play, the Bruins very quickly had a hole to climb out of, and it also appeared that Marchand was thrown off his game by the incident.

After that the Bruins had to play catch up. Fast forward to the third period with 4:31 to go. The Bruins are down by a goal and swarming the Habs net. They had come back in this situation before earlier in the series; the game had opened up, and the momentum appeared to be moving in their direction. Yet again, at precisely the critical moment, Dave Jackson made an inexplicable call, this time on Johnny Boychuck. This was late in game seven, people. Every ref knows that they only call the big obvious game-changing penalties under these circumstances. Yet when Bournival chipped the puck past Boychuck and then skated into him, interference was called. With just over 4 minutes left, the Bruins were put in a deep hole, and it was one they could not get out of. You can claim that the Bruins didn't deserve to win this game, but that does not excuse the referee determining the outcome! By doing so he took something away from us fans. Now we will never know if the Bruins could have evened the game, and possibly won the series.

By the way, I'm not the only one who feels this way about how the game was officiated. After writing the above, I did a Google search and discovered that long-time referee Kerry Fraser was also very critical of the officiating.

Anyhow, this loss hurt. It hurt because the Bruins were good enough to win the Cup. It hurt because it was the Habs. It hurt because the poor officiating took away their chance to tie the game late. It hurt because a Conference Final against the Rangers would have been epic. It hurt because the Habs got under our skin a little too, and our team didn't always seem like the good guys, no matter how much we wanted them to be. But it was not due to any one player or coach. Rather, it was one of those human intangibles that affected the whole team, and I doubt it is something we will see repeated next season. So if you want to blame someone for the loss, don't blame Marchand, or Lucic, or Rask, or Krejci, or Bartkowski, or even Dave Jackson. There is one person more responsible than anyone else for this loss, and it was Malcolm Suban. Not only was he the best player on the ice, but he was also a class act off it. In the end, that combination simply proved to be a bit too much.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Bruins Fate Lies Out in Front of Their Net

How did the Bruins lose in the cup final last year? Yes, I know they were really banged up, but that's why they lost. The question is, how? What I saw happening was this: the Hawks threw pucks at the net, creating rebounds, and then beat the Bruins to the puck. It was that simple.

The regular season is a whole different game. In order to win in the playoffs, the Bruins are going to have to stop this from happening again. This is why the loss of Seidenberg and McQaid is such a big concern. They are two big guys who can clear the front of the net. Let's call clearing the front of the net "plan A.' Chara can't do it by himself. Without those two big guys, the Bruins are going to have to go with plan "B". Success is going to require strong back checking and Rask will need to limit his rebounds. That, and they will need to score a lot of goals, because they are going to be scored against.

Fortunately there is some reason for optimism. Remember that long winning streak the B's went on recently? It started with a game that was stolen by Rask. I think Rask is an excellent goaltender, but he has not stolen a lot of games in his NHL career. He's consistent and strong, but there aren't many times when you think, "this team should have lost, except for the amazing goaltending." In the game he stole, the puck kept ending up loose in front of the net, and the other team kept getting to it first. But Tuukka stood on his head and none of them went in. In the games that followed, this same thing happened again and again. After watching a few gazillion games you start to get a sixth sense about when a goal is going to be scored. Mine kept going off when there was a scramble in front of the net, yet time and time again the puck didn't go in. It seemed like some sort of magic. After a while it started to feel like the Bruins were invincible, and I think the guys on the ice felt that too. With a streak like this comes confidence, and with confidence comes strong, consistent, and resilient play.

The question now is, has the magic worn off? And if so, can Rask steal a game or two in the playoffs? Regardless, I think the Bruins fate lies out in front of their net.