Bruins

Youth needs to be served

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Youth needs to be served

This is the second in a five-part series about the breakdowns that doomed the team this season, and what must change for the Black and Gold to once again get moving in the right direction. 

In the days after the Bruins' regular-season demise, it was striking to hear Don Sweeney speak about the development path of David Pastrnak.

The Bruins general manager paid the second-year forward perfunctory compliments about the prodigious skill set that made him a first-round draft choice. Pastrnak -- in spite of getting almost no power-play time, even though he's one of the most gifted offensive players on the roster -- scored five more goals and roughly the same number of points in about the same number of games as he did in his rookie year, despite suffering a fractured foot in the first month and then competing in the World Junior tourney around the holidays. He also gained steam at the end of the season, scoring goals in three of the final four games while the rest of his teammates struggled.

But Pastrnak, one of the youngest players in the NHL at age 19, struggled with puck management and turnovers, and had some rough nights as a teenager making his way in a rough-and-tumble man’s league. He's still on the learning curve, something Sweeney readily acknowledges.

“The impatience about putting players [at the NHL level] before they’re ready, it shows up at times,” said Sweeney, who invoked Pastrnak’s name while answering a question about the potential NHL readiness of promising young B's prospect Danton Heinen. “It absolutely does. We’re talking about David Pastrnak, who leads the league in giveaways per 60 minutes. He’s a tremendous talent and a tremendous young man with tremendous character, and he wants to get better and needs to get stronger.

“At times it’s unfair to [coach Claude Julien] that people will be like ‘Ah, there’s Pastrnak not out there on the ice in this situation.’ But [Julien's] the same guy that put [Pastrnak] out there (in a crucial late-season game against the Red Wings with the Bruins leading 5-1) and he makes a bad mistake and they score . . .

"That’s a bit of give-and-take that everybody has to understand with our younger players. You have to hope that they’re ready for it. [We've] done it properly (in the past) . . . [Brad Marchand] started on the fourth line and worked his way up.

"David has been up and down a little bit. That’s the piece where we need to have some depth, and we’re in a transition to get there.”

Sweeney's mention of Marchand illustrates the Bruins' problem. When Marchand broke in, the Bruins were a talented Stanley Cup contender. His first full season was 2010-11, the year Boston won the Cup. The B's could afford to slowly develop him, letting him get his feet wet in low-pressure situations before asking more of him.

That's not the case today. The Bruins no longer have that kind of quality roster depth, and won't anytime soon unless a lot of these prospects come through. That means young players like Pastrnak are forced into bigger roles they might not be ready for.

And that strikes right at the heart of Boston’s development missteps from last season.  

Some of it was organizational. It seemed pretty clear by the end of the season that Zach Trotman, Joe Morrow and Brett Connolly aren’t going to develop into core players in Boston. That's just the way it is in a results-oriented business like the NHL. It doesn’t necessarily reflect poorly on the coaching staff’s work, as great coaching can’t magically turn a borderline NHL player into something he’s not.

But while the coaches handled Pastrnak well, they failed at times with Frank Vatrano and Colin Miller. Both showed flashes of NHL ability throughout the season, but spoke of losing their confidence based on their erratic usage patterns. The two of them needed stints in the American Hockey League to get their respective grooves back.

In particular, the electric Vatrano should have been back up with the B's weeks sooner than he was. The Bruins were struggling to score goals and he was rifling them home at a goal-per-game pace in Providence. As soon as he returned to Boston, he posted four points in his five games.

With Julien returning and the Bruins intent on introducing more young talent to the lineup, the transition into the NHL needs to be streamlined.

Given how much of a priority it is for Sweeney, there's no reason to think the process won't be improved.

The hope is that the next crop of B’s prospects will yield results. First-round picks from other organizations, like Morrow and Connolly, mostly fizzled last season, but Boston’s own crop of young players -- Heinen, Brandon Carlo, Austin Czarnik, Noel Acciari -- should augment the contributions of newcomers like Vatrano and Miller. And while most of last year's first-round selections (Jakub Zboril, Jake DeBrusk and Zachary Senyshyn) are probably still more than a year away, the feeling is there'll be a promising return from that batch of draftees. In addition, the Bruins have another two first-round picks this year.

Upper management makes the point that the present situation began developing in the final years of Peter Chiarelli's watch. With singular exceptions like Marchand the team was unable to develop its own talent, which led to overpaying veterans to stay competitive, which led to severe salary-cap issues, which led to the decay of the franchise we've witnessed over the last two seasons. 

"I think for a period of time we stopped being in an invest mode (and instead ran) with the guys we had," said owner Jeremy Jacobs. "You pay a price in this game if you’re not constantly investing in the next generation.”

Now, however, it's time to stop the finger-pointing and begin the rebuild in earnest. To their credit, the Bruins say they're doing just that.

“I think we did take a step back this year for that very purpose,” said Jacobs. 

Investing in youth is simply the way of the salary-cap world, for the Bruins and everybody else in the NHL. It will have to mean patience and longer leashes for young players under Julien.

“The younger players that we’ve drafted and recently signed and are going to develop are a big part of [the future], as long as they’re good enough players," said Sweeney. "We expect them to be. But when . . . you put them in your lineup is important . . . 

"This ownership is very, very supportive of what we need to do. It’s just, ‘Get it done.’ So that’s why the chair is warm [for everybody].”

While Julien clearly did play a role in the emergence of Marchand, David Krejci and Milan Lucic as NHL stars, developing young players has never been one of his coaching strengths. He certainly bears some responsibility for elite young talents like Phil Kessel, Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton not lasting in Boston. The warmth of his chair will depend largely on the development of the new crop of youngsters. That will be doubly so if Providence Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy ends up getting a job as an assistant in Boston next season, and gets a chance to work with the young players he’s helped develop at the AHL level.

The bottom line is this for the Bruins: They need the best draft-and-development season they’ve had in quite a while if things are going to significantly change for the better on Causeway Street. 

Bruins closing in on Nash with many details to iron out

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Bruins closing in on Nash with many details to iron out

TORONTO – It sounds like the Boston Bruins are on the verge of a fairly substantial trade if they can iron out some of the details both big and small.

According to multiple reports and sources, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney is closing in on a trade for New York Rangers winger Rick Nash ahead of Monday afternoon’s trade deadline. The 33-year-old Nash has 18 goals and 28 points in 60 games this season for the Blueshirts, and really has been in decline over the last couple of years in New York since scoring 42 goals and 69 points back in the 2014-15 season.

Still, Nash has quite the resume as the first overall pick in the 2002 NHL Draft and a guy that’s scored over 400 goals and nearly 800 points in his 14-year NHL career while starring for the Columbus Blue Jackets and Rangers during that time. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder would bring the size, heaviness and experience factor that the Bruins have been looking to add to their wing ahead of the stretch run and playoffs, and certainly could be energized down the stretch while potentially playing a second line role with a center like David Krejci.

Don Sweeney indicated prior to the reports surfacing that the Bruins could be more invested into the rental market this season, given their strong campaign, than they originally thought they’d be when the season started.

“We’d like to think that the group can continue on along the path that they’re on, but if you can add to it and help it…the rental market depends on what you’re going to give up, and what that impact of that player is necessarily going to be and how they’re going to fit into the group,” said Sweeney. “The chemistry piece is an important piece in and around the trade deadline, so that’s something we have to be cognizant of.”

There are, however, a couple of issues for the Bruins and Rangers to work out before it’s a done deal. One is the massive cap hit for Nash that would still be well over $3 million even if the Rangers agree to eat half of his remaining contract, and that would leave the Bruins to need to clear some space with a corresponding deal elsewhere. There’s also the matter of ponying up assets in exchange for Nash, who it’s believed would cost the Bruins a first round pick and a solid prospect that is not yet on the NHL roster.

That means the Bruins would able to avoid potentially dealing Brandon Carlo, Jake DeBrusk or Danton Heinen from their NHL roster, which it wasn’t expected they would need to move in a rental deal for Nash. But it does mean the Bruins likely would be parting with a blue chip prospect still in the development stage, whether it’s Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Jakub Zboril, Zach Senyshyn or even a college hockey prospect like Trent Frederic.

That’s a big price to pay from Boston’s future to be sure, but it would be done based on Nash being an impact player this season for a Bruins team that looks like they might have a pretty good postseason run in them.

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Rough stretch of hockey for Brandon Carlo

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AP Photo

Rough stretch of hockey for Brandon Carlo

GOLD STAR: Nazem Kadri really stepped up for the Maple Leafs without Auston Matthews, and showed his goal-scoring prowess with a couple of power play strikes. The first was a great tipped pass from JVR to Kadri waiting all alone in the face-off circle, and the second was a give-and-go with Mitch Marner where the Leafs agitator finally slammed it home from the high slot for his 23rd goal of the season. Kadri was a minus-2 in the game as his line had their struggles against the Patrice Bergeron line, but he was great at the offensive end with the two goals, a game-high eight shots on net and a couple of takeaways in a pretty active 17:49 of ice time. Kadri certainly showed that he needs to be accounted for during the PP where he twice stung the B’s.

BLACK EYE: Brandon Carlo had a pretty tough night finishing with just 13:32 of ice time while he was on the ice for three goals against. A couple of them were on the penalty kill, so Carlo only finish a minus-1 for the game, but the 21-year-old is a minus-5 on the current road trip and has been struggling this week as the Bruins roll into the NHL trade deadline. After being on ice for the two goals against with the shots coming from his side in the first period, it appeared that Carlo lost his confidence and wasn’t trying to make plays for the rest of the night. So at points Carlo hit the pine as Bruce Cassidy was rotating through the other 5 D-men, and the Bruins coaches are left with something to think about as they write out their lineup for Sunday afternoon in Buffalo.

TURNING POINT: It came down to the final two minutes in the game when Ron Hainsey scored the game-winner for the Maple Leafs on a long bomb from the point with Zach Hyman grinding in front of the Boston net. In fact Hyman was grinding so much that he pushed Charlie McAvoy directly into Tuukka Rask as he was tracking the puck, and knocked him off balance where he couldn’t make a play from the deep perimeter. The goal was ruled a good one on the ice, and a coach’s challenge for goalie interference somewhat surprisingly didn’t go Boston’s way. It looked clear-cut that McAvoy was shoved into his goaltender, but apparently the NHL is determined to make everybody unsure of the new goalie interference interpretation. The challenge from the Bruins was overruled, and the Leafs won the game on a controversial call.

HONORABLE MENTION: Patrice Bergeron was outstanding in the game, which made it all the more perplexing when he walked out of the Air Canada Centre following the game wearing a protective right boot. Bergeron finished with a game-high 19:15 of ice time among the forwards, notched a couple of assists and a plus-2 rating, had six shot attempts, two hits, two takeaways and won 15-of-22 face-offs while also playing the final 1:23 of the game. It appeared that Bergeron’s right foot was hit by a shot earlier in the game where he was able to finish out the game, but clearly it was bothering him a bit after it was all over. It’s a credit to No. 37’s toughness that he was able to play so well during the game while in clear discomfort.

BY THE NUMBERS: 1-2-1 – the Bruins’ record against the Maple Leafs team they may likely end up seeing in the first round of the playoffs. The Bruins lost all three games where Toronto was without Auston Matthews, believe it or not.  

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I was pushed into [Tuukka]. I don’t know what goaltender interference really is, and I know I’m not the only one. I’ve seen it work in our favor, and I’ve seen it work against us now. There doesn’t seem to be a fine line.” –Charlie McAvoy, who is both convinced Toronto’s game-winner was goalie interference and unsure of exactly how it’s going to be called in the future.

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