Tagged: Jeff Carter

The Bruins Continue to Disappoint

I wrote a few months ago about the underwhelming to disappointing summer the Boston Bruins were having, just a few years after winning the Stanley Cup, and just one year after adding perennial 30 goal scorer Jarome Iginla to a roster that was 17 seconds away from forcing a Game 7 against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals. That was before the B’s traded Johnny Boychuk for nothing that could help them this season, and that was before the injuries and excuses began. This Bruins team is bad. It’s the worst I’ve felt as a fan about the team since the 2009-10 season, but even then, a young Tuukka Rask had given us a reason for hope. This team isn’t tough, can’t score, and has deficiencies on defense that make the goaltending look bad. How did it happen this way to a team that won the second President’s Trophy in franchise history last spring? What has to happen for things to get better?

The highlight for the Bruins in the summer of 2013 was the acquisition of Jarome Iginla in free agency, after the B’s had failed to complete a trade with the Calgary Flames during the season. Iginla instead was dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins, whom the Bruins swept on their way to their second Stanley Cup Finals appearance in three years. Unfortunately, Iggy’s stay in Boston ended with a second round playoff exit at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens (who lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the New York Rangers, who lost in the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Finals, meaning the B’s didn’t even come close to being beaten by the best team in the tournament). Once again a free agent, Iginla took his talents to Denver to join the Colorado Avalanche in the summer of 2014.

Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli.

Players come and go. That’s the nature of professional sports, but Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli did not bring in anyone to replace Iginla. Iggy was brought in to replace the production on the top line that Nathan Horton had contributed from 2010 to 2013 (Iginla was more productive than Horton in the regular season, but lacked Horty’s playoff scoring touch that defined his tenure in Boston), and without a player of that caliber drawing coverage and creating space, the production of Milan Lucic and David Krejci has also suffered this season.The Bruins offense is the worst it has been since 2009-10, the year before they traded for Horton (as well as Gregory Campbell, when the Bruins traded Dennis Wideman to Florida), when 4th liner Daniel Paille had to play significant minutes on the top line alongside Krejci and Lucic. The team has restrictions with the salary cap, but they have been doing a lot more subtraction than addition to this once great roster in recent years, and not just with the 1st line right wing position.

The Bruins lost some major pieces of their identity be choosing to move on from defenseman Andrew Ference (now living in hockey hell as captain of the lowly Edmonton Oilers) in 2013 and enforcer Shawn Thornton (now with the Florida Panthers) in 2014. The Bruins team that won the Stanley Cup in 2011 was not the fastest, not the most prolific offense, and not the most talented team in the NHL by any stretch of the imagination. They won with grit, hard work, physicality, and otherworldly performance in net after otherworldly performance in net by Tim Thomas. Guys like Ference and Thornton were quintessential Bruins in that regard. They were the glue guys in the dressing room who brought a physical edge on the ice. Ference was the guy who started the “Starter Jacket” tradition during the 2011 playoffs, awarding a vintage Bruins jacket he found in a thrift shop to the player of the game (and eventually giving it to the retiring Mark Recchi in the banner raising ceremony), and continuing similar rituals during other playoff runs. Thornton added a certain energy to the game, even if he wasn’t dropping the gloves, and adding Thorty to the lineup against the Vancouver Canucks allowed for the Bruins to play with an edge they did not have when he was in the press box.

Former Bruin Shawn Thornton.

At least when they let Ference walk in free agency, there was confidence that young defensemen Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton could step up and take on more responsibility on the blue line, but with the departure of Thornton this summer, it was a shift in philosophy as much as a change in personnel, and it has not worked thus far. The Bruins reacted their playoff loss to Montreal by thinking they needed to get faster and more skilled to be able to go toe to toe with Montreal in the future. That may not be wrong. The Habs had a player (who has since retired) very similar to Thornton in the form of Princeton grad George Parros. Parros is another old school tough guy, and has a mustache that never got the memo that the 70s ended, and was teammates with Thornton on the Stanley Cup winning 2007 Anaheim Ducks, but the biggest difference between the two players was that Thornton was playing significant minutes for the Bruins, while Parros sat in the press box during the playoffs for the Canadiens. The Bruins called up from Providence an enforcer named Bobby Robbins, a UMass Lowell grad who had never played in the NHL before this season, but had a little bit of Hanson Brother in his game and brought energy and toughness to every shift. He was sent back down shortly thereafter, and the Bruins are left with a little bit of skill, and not enough toughness on their roster. They did not necessarily need Shawn Thornton, but they do need a tough guy.

Former Bruin Tyler Seguin.

I was wrong about the Seguin Trade. I’ve admitted it, and I would be more insistent that the Bruins admitted it if it would change the fact that the trade happened and that Tyler Seguin is never coming back (at least not in his prime). I wrote in the summer of 2013 (on the day the trade happened if I remember correctly) that Seguin was a disappointment, and that Loui Eriksson was a better fit for the Bruins, and he has been nothing to write home about until very recently. Reilly Smith has exceeded my expectations, but that was only because I didn’t know who he was before the Bruins acquired him from Dallas. At any rate, the Bruins gave up on Tyler Seguin too early, and Seguin might score 50 goals for the Dallas Stars this year. It could be argued that Taylor Hall would have been a better fit for the Bruins, but he was off the board when they drafter at #2 in 2010. With talent like that, the Bruins should have been more patient, and should have allowed him to flourish in the offensive zone rather than harp on his defensive shortcomings. Seguin is still only 22, and has found a home in Dallas. Meanwhile the Bruins are struggling to score just as badly as the year before they drafted him.

Peter Chiarelli was enough in Boston’s defensive depth at the beginning of the season to trade Johnny Boychuk to the New York Islanders during the preseason. Boychuk, like Ference and Thornton, was a big part of the Bruins’ physical identity during both Cup runs, and had only gotten better since his first significant ice time during the 2009-10 season. After Dennis Seidenberg went down with a knee injury last season, Boychuk stepped up and established himself as the team’s second best defenseman after captain Zdeno Chara. In return, the Bruins got two second round picks, and a conditional third rounder, which felt like a bad return on a good player who is only 30. The trade looked even worse as Chara, Adam McQuaid, and Torey Krug have all missed significant time with injuries this season while Boychuk is making a great impact for the suddenly competitive Isles.

The Bruins have mismanaged the roster when it comes to the salary cap. I understand wanting to keep a good team together, but the Bruins overpaid players they should not have, and the salary cap has not gone up the way Chiarelli may have thought it would. The Bruins owe Chris Kelly $3 million this season and next season. They owe Loui Eriksson $4.25 million this season and next season. They owe Milan Lucic $6 million this season and next season, and his price is likely to go up if he becomes an unrestricted free agent as scheduled. The Bruins will also have to pay more for impending young free agents Reilly Smith, Matt Fraser, Craig Cunningham, Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton (all restricted), Matt Bartkowski, and Carl Soderberg (unrestricted) after this season, not to mention veterans Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille, whom the Bruins seem more and more unlikely to bring back, given the circumstances. That’s a lot of uncertainty, and a lot of variables keeping the Bruins where they are. A trade or two needs to be made to make the picture clearer.

Dougie Hamilton and Zdeno Chara.

If it were up to me (which is it not), almost everyone on the roster would be on the table for trade talks. The only players I would not trade under any circumstances at this point are Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, and Dougie Hamilton: the Norris Trophy winning captain, Selke Trophy winning alternate captain, and the promising young defenseman. The Bruins sold too low on Seguin, and after the Boychuk trade, my lack of faith in their ability to get a proper return on Hamilton has only been reaffirmed. David Krejci should not be traded under any circumstances, for all intents and purposes, but I left him off the list because of the long shot possibility of packaging him up to get a Jeff Carter, or an Anze Kopitar, or a Jonathan Toews, or a Ryan Getzlaf, but that will never happen. I love Tuukka Rask, but the Bruins drafted goalie prospect Malcolm Subban (P.K.’s brother), and the years the Bruins would spend developing him into a franchise goaltender are years that Tuukka is under contract. Going forward, they will only be able to keep Rask or Subban long term, so both should be on the trade block now. Loui Eriksson and Chris Kelly are two players I would trade (for the right return, obviously) without feeling bad about it, and while I like them, Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic, Dennis Seidenberg, Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille, Reilly Smith, Carl Soderberg, and Torey Krug are all players they could move and teams would be willing to give up substantial assets to acquire if the Bruins become sellers at the trade deadline.

I would be more confident in the Bruins’ ability to build through the draft and the farm system if Chiarelli was any good at drafting. Much like Theo Epstein with the Red Sox, much of his championship roster was put together by his predecessor, with key acquisitions like Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Tim Thomas being made my former GM Mike O’Connell (now the Director of Pro Development for the LA Kings), and the trade to acquire Rask on Draft Day from Toronto happening while Chiarelli was still under contract with the Ottawa Senators (was it Chiarelli? was it O’Connell’s people? was it Harry Sinden? My guess is Harry, but that’s another column for another day). Chiarelli’s greatest drafting successes came early in his tenure when he selected Phil Kessel (#5), Milan Lucic (#50), and Brad Marchand (#71) in 2006 (in 2009, Kessel was traded to the Maple Leafs for the draft picks that became Tyler Seguin, Jared Knight, and Dougie Hamilton), but he’s gone cold since then. His best recent draft selections were Seguin (#2, 2010) and Hamilton (#9, 2011), but that was because those were picks acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs so high it would be really hard to miss, and even then, they dealt one of those players after three seasons.

Other Bruins drafts were highlighted by Subban (#24, 2012), a goalie drafted by a team that didn’t need a goalie, Jordan Caron (#25, 2009), Jared Knight (#32, 2010) and Ryan Spooner (#45, 2010), who have not been able to establish themselves at the NHL level, and Zach Hamill (#8, 2007) who was drafted ahead of Logan Couture, Brandon Sutter, Ryan McDonagh, Lars Eller, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Max Paccioretty, all of whom have become productive NHL players while Hamill washed out of the Bruins’ organization, was traded to Washington for Chris Bourque (Ray’s kid), and now plays professional hockey for the hockey club HPK in Finland. There is still hope for 18 year old Czech prospect David Pastrnak (#25, 2014), but he will not be able to help the Bruins turn their fortunes around this season.

Normally, it would be natural to blame the coach for a roster with a history of success to not be as motivated as they used to be, but it’s hard to blame Claude Julien for this. I’ve been critical of Julien before, and I think his system has its flaws, but you can’t put this season all on him. Claude didn’t trade Johnny Boychuk. Claude didn’t let Shawn Thornton take his talents to South Beach. Claude didn’t let Jarome Iginla leave and try to replace his production with minor league talent. Claude may have been frustrated with Seguin’s inconsistency on offense and liability on defense, but he wasn’t the one who thought Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith, Matt Fraser, and Joe Morrow were a satisfactory return for a 21 year old sniper, either. Claude Julien may be on the hot seat in my mind someday, but it will not be this day. The B’s have bigger problems than the coach.

Right now, the Bruins are a mess, and Chiarelli, Julien, and Team President Cam Neely have their work cut out for them. Trades need to be made, and draft picks are not a good enough return. Players who can put the puck in the net should get a higher priority than they have been getting. If they can put more skill around the solid foundation of Chara, Bergeron, Hamilton, and Krejci, good things will happen, and Julien’s system is such that with good defensemen, either Rask or Subban can thrive. They might be able to turn it around this year, but I’m not holding my breath.

Every great team has to move on from the past. Tom Brady and Vince Wilfork are the only players that remain from the last Patriots team to win the Super Bowl. The Celtics just traded away the last remaining player from their championship contending days from 2008 to 2012, and are looking ahead to the future. David Ortiz is the last player remaining from the 2004 Red Sox, and they have been moving on from players from the 2007 and 2013 World Series squads left and right. Peter Chiarelli can fix this. He was captain of the hockey team at some school called Harvard, and is highly though of enough from his peers to be named to the front office of Team Canada in the 2014 Winter Olympics, and now he has to use his Ivy League intelligence and hockey IQ to fix the Bruins team he built into a champion once already. The questions that remain are “when?” and “how?”

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The Real Championship Round

Anything can happen, and anyone can beat anyone else in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but I have a feeling that the winner of the Stanley Cup in 2014 is being decided in the Western Conference Finals. The series features the 2013 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks and the 2012 Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings, and the two most recent champs appear to be the two best teams in the NHL once again. With all due respect to the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens, it looks like the winner in the East will lose to the winner in the West for the third straight year. Right now the Kings lead the series two games to one, but it just takes one game or one period for the momentum to shift once again. In the meantime, it’s a lot of fun to watch.

The Hawks and the Kings are two of the most physical teams in the NHL, which has been a key to winning the Cup since this decade began. The series has two very good goaltenders in Corey Crawford and Jonathan Quick. Both teams have star players on the blue line in Drew Doughty for Los Angeles and Norris Trophy finalist Duncan Keith for Chicago. Both teams have star forwards who can put the puck in the net. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Patrick Sharp for Chicago, and Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and Marian Gaborik for Los Angeles.

What really amazes me is the way Jeff Carter has reshaped his image since getting traded to Los Angeles. Carter is big and talented, and was a very productive player when he was in Philadelphia, but he tended to disappear in the playoffs for one reason or another (often injury), and it seemed he was on the verge of becoming another Joe Thornton, who has yet to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals despite putting up Hall of Fame regular season numbers. After getting dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets, Carter hit the low point of his career. He looked uninterested on a bad terrible team. Carter didn’t even last a full season in Columbus before getting traded to the Kings at the trade deadline. Carter was reunited with his friend and former Philadelphia teammate Mike Richards, and everything clicked. Richards and Carter were a huge part of the run the Kings went on in 2012 that culminated with this. Cater now has the reputation of a tough, gritty playoff performer. Can’t say I saw that one coming.

The Kings were the lowest scoring team during the regular season to make the playoffs. The made the tournament thanks to the stingy goaltending of Jonathan Quick and Darryl Sutter’s unrelenting defensive system. In the playoffs, they have lit it up, and have become a scarily balanced attack that outlasted their California rivals the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks in back-to-back seven game series.

I watched the third period of Game 3 last night. It was the first hockey I had watched since my Boston Bruins didn’t show up for Game 7 against Montreal, but the Red Sox are in the midst of a nine game losing streak, and I went sheepishly crawling back to hockey. These two teams should meet in the playoffs every year because it’s great hockey. While I was impressed with LA’s control of the pace and the puck in that period, I was even more impressed with the Staples Center crowd. They were really into it. I don’t know why I’m still surprised by things like this, but the stereotypes about non-traditional hockey markets still stick in my mind more than 20 years after Wayne Gretzky took the Kings to the Stanley Cup Finals. It took time, but LA is really starting to look like a hockey town. It certainly helps that the Lakers were terrible this year, and the Clippers were eliminated last week, but then I saw the tribute Teemu Selanne got from the southern California crowd in his last game, or the introduction the Ducks and Kings got at Dodger Stadium this past winter, and I realize it’s not a fluke. It’s not what you’d see in a rivalry game between Boston and Montreal, or New York and New Jersey, or Edmonton and Calgary, but it’s still really cool.

New Sheriff in Philly

This week, following a first round departure from the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the hands of the New York Rangers, the Philadelphia Flyers have hired Ron Hextall as the team’s new General Manager, and promoted former GM Paul Homlgren to the position of Team President. Holmgren did an admirable job as GM, and the Flyers reached the Stanley Cup Finals under his watch in 2010, but it was time for a philosophical change in Philly when it comes to managing the hockey roster.

The beginning of the Flyers’ downfall (and downfall is a relative term in this case. There are much more poorly run organizations than Philadelphia.) occurred in 2011, when Philly was swept by the Boston Bruins team that they had rallied back against the previous year. Ever since the departure of Ron Hextall, the Flyers have had trouble in the eternal pursuit for another franchise goalie. Goaltending fell apart against the Bruins and Holmgren decided to acquire Ilya Bryzgalov to try and solve the problem. To fit Bryz under the salary cap, Holmgren dealt team captain Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings, and leading scorer Jeff Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets (Carter was later dealt to LA in exchange for Jack Johnson). In 2012, the Kings won the Stanley Cup with significant contributions from Richards, Carter, another former Flyer Simon Gagne, and Ron Hextall, who was working as an assistant general manager at the time. Many jokes were made about the the Kings being like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air with all those guys leaving Philly to find success in southern California.

Ilya Bryzgalov did not work out in Philadelphia, and was bought out two years into his nine year contract. Bryz is still a decent goaltender and isn’t the colossal failure he was made out to be in Philly, as evidenced by his performance in the playoffs for the Minnesota Wild. With the career ending injury to Chris Pronger, the whole defensive system for the Flyers was compromised and it has taken Philadelphia years to recover. While the former Flyers were bringing the Stanley Cup to Hollywood, the Flyers organization took steps backward. Head coach Peter Laviolette was fired earlier this year. Hextall was brought into the front office, and it seemed like it was only a matter of time before he took Holmgren’s job.

Hextall was a fan favorite during his time in Philly. He is the franchise’s leader in games played and wins in net. In 1988, he became the first goalie to score a goal in a playoff game. He’s a good choice to appease the fan base, but he also has a lot of good experience in front offices.

The Flyers are in a lot of ways the Oakland Raiders of hockey. They have a fast and physical style that is synonymous with their jersey and colors. They had their greatest success under a legendary coach from the 70s. Fred Shero’s Broad Street Bullies were knocking out the NHL competition, and John Madden’s Raiders were the NFL’s most polarizing team, and around the same time Rocky Balboa was knocking out Apollo Creed in a fictional version of Philadelphia. The last couple years under Holmgren, the Flyers looked like they were on the verge of suffering the same fate as the Raiders of the last decade or so. They were over-aggressive and desperate, and their passionate fans were growing impatient as they seemed to be losing control of the situation. With Hextall, there is a chance for a fresh perspective, and a new focus.

The Kings Are the Comeback Kings

Joe Thornton and the San Jose Sharks blew it. They had a 3-0 series lead on the Los Angeles Kings and lost the next four games. Joe Thornton might someday lose his reputation for being a playoff choker, but it will not be this year. Sharks fans should remember that it wasn’t very long ago that Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Tuukka Rask were considered chokers, culminating with a collapse just as devastating at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers, but they came back the next season, and won three Game 7s on their way to a Stanley Cup, and the one series of theirs that did not go seven games was a sweep of the Flyers team that had beaten them the year before. That’s a discussion for this summer, but in the meantime, credit needs to be given to the LA Comeback Kings.

There is a common denominator between the Bruins’ collapse, and the Sharks’ collapse: Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Those two guys were playing for the Flyers in 2010, and play for the Kings now. They have had their backs against the wall like that twice now, and ended up pulling the series out. Maybe Flyers GM expected them to do it again in 2011 because after the Bruins completed the sweep on Philly that year, Richards got traded to Los Angeles and Carter got traded to Columbus (only to get traded to LA at the 2012 trade deadline) that summer. In LA, they became Stanley Cup champions, helping the Kings roll over the competition despite being the #8 seed in the Western Conference. Philly still hasn’t been back to the Finals since losing to Chicago in 2010, but they could have used Richards and Carter this year when they lost to the New York Rangers in seven games.

The other major factor in the Kings’ comeback was goaltender and UMass alum Jonathan Quick. Quick was nails for the Kings in the last for games of that series, and shut down one of the most potent offenses in the NHL. That’s what he does. In the Olympics, Quick was the guy who kept the United States in games they should have lost, or should have lost by a lot more. If Brian Burke had the humility to put Bobby Ryan on the American roster, Quick might have a 2014 medal to go with the Silver he earned as a backup in 2010, his Stanley Cup ring, and his Conn Smythe Trophy. If he keeps playing like that, he’ll have plenty more awards to add to his collection over the next few years.

The Kings will have their hands full with their other California rival, the Anaheim Ducks, in the second round. The battle for southern California should be some more great hockey for a region that has really started getting into hockey over the last 20 years. As much as must hurt to be a Sharks fan right now (and I know from experience thanks to the Bruins) it’s that thrilling to be a Kings fan right now (and I know from experience thanks to the Red Sox). Round two of the playoffs is already up to a strong start with the double OT game between the Bruins and Habs (it hurts that the Habs won, but I feel better about the Bruins after that game than I did after Game 1 of the Detroit series), and all of these series have a chance to become classics.

Yzerman’s Olympic Selections

Steve Yzerman made a name for himself as a leader of men in his playing days with the Detroit Red Wings. Since hanging up his skates, he’s risen through the ranks and become one of the best executives in the NHL, first as an assistant GM in Detroit, then overseeing the 2010 Canadian Olympic team that won the Gold Medal Game over the United States, and now as the GM for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Today, he’s back at it for Team Canada as he announced the final roster for the country that will always be favored in the Olympics. Last week, Team USA GM Brian Burke took a lot of heat for his roster selections, most notably picking Blake Wheeler over Bobby Ryan, but Canada has a much deeper pool of high end talent that their Neighbors to the South.

Here is Canada’s roster for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi:

Forwards
Jamie Benn (Dallas Stars)
Patrice Bergeron (Boston Bruins)
Jeff Carter (LA Kings)
Sidney Crosby (Pitsburgh Penguins)
Matt Duchene (Colorado Avalanche)
Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks)
Chris Kunitz (Pittsburgh Penguins)
Patrick Marleau (San Jose Sharks)
Rick Nash (New York Rangers)
Corey Perry (Anaheim Ducks)
Patrick Sharp (Chicago Blackhawks)
Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay Lightning)
John Tavares (New York Islanders)
Jonathan Toews (Chicago Blackhawks)

Defensemen
Jay Bouwmeester (St. Louis Blues)
Drew Doughty (LA Kings)
Dan Hamhuis (Vancouver Canucks)
Duncan Keith (Chicago Blackhawks)
Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis Blues)
P.K. Subban (Montreal Canadiens)
Marc-Edouard Vlasic (San Jose Sharks)
Shea Weber (Nashville Predators)

Goalies
Roberto Luongo (Vancouver Canucks)
Carey Price (Montreal Canadiens)
Mike Smith (Phoenix Coyotes)

This roster is loaded. Only Canada could leave such a combination of young talent (Tyler Seguin, Milan Lucic, Taylor Hall, Wayne Simmonds, etc.) and veteran talent (Mike Richards, Joe Thornton, Jarome Iginla, and Martin Brodeur) off the roster, and still look this good. I’d love to see Iggy and Looch playing for Canada, but Bergeron deserved it more, and I’d rather see those guys healthy and ready to go for the playoffs. I would have liked to see Old Man Marty Brodeur play in yet another Olympics, but Carey Price will probably be the guy in net if it were up to me.

It’s still a few weeks away, but I’m already pumped for the Winter Olympics. It should be a good one!