Bruins

Bruins will stay course in free agency

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Bruins will stay course in free agency

WILMINGTON, Mass. Peter Chiarelli has been nothing if not consistent in his message this spring and summer.

His words arent going to inspire Bruins fans to work up into a free agent lather or allow them to play rotisserie hockey with their hometown hockey club.

But instead theyre the steady, intelligent strategies of somebody building a long term hockey winner.

The Bruins GM cant afford to start shoehorning high priced mercenaries from the free agent market into a proven dressing room, and its probably the best course of action at the end of the day.

Chiarelli once again warned everybody on Friday that the Bruins wont be big time players when NHL free agency opens on July 1. The priority for the Bs front office is simple and clear: keeping a proven playoff club together.

Perhaps there will be a hockey deal for a veteran winger made in the days following Sundays open to free agency, but there wont be a dismantling of a team thats made it to the second round of the playoffs in three of the last four seasons, won Northeast Division titles in three of the last four years and snagged the organizations first Stanley Cup in nearly four decades.

That can lead to little movement during the leagues biggest days for transactions, and that doesnt have to be a bad thing.

My gut is telling me that well be quiet on July 1thats my gut, said Chiarelli. If you look at as to how weve built our team over the years - but for my first year and maybe when we signed Michael Ryder we havent really gone out and hit a couple home runs on July 1.

Maybe I look at the trade market after the July 1, but my gut instinct is Ill probably be quiet.

Some may point to fluky elements to last years Stanley Cup run and others see a clear and present offensive problem with the Black and Gold if Nathan Horton doesnt return to pre-concussion form next year. Some chalk up the Bruins Cup to an insanely hot goaltender that carried them through a wide open Eastern Conference.

There may be small, hidden truths within all of those statements, but lets be clear about one thing: no team has ever won four playoff rounds including three Game 7s because it was a fluke.

That notion is dumber than Jim Carey and Jeff Daniels double-riding a motor scooter through Aspen.

While the offense isnt as big a problem as some might have you believe with a bevy of 20-goal scorers and a goal-scoring star just waiting to explode in Tyler Seguin, the Bruins also didnt look like the NHLs No. 2 ranked offense in their first round loss to the Washington Capitals.

So instead of tearing apart his team to chase after Zach Parise, Rick Nash or Ryan Suter, Chiarelli is resolute in keeping the Bruins together with the re-signing of Tuukka Rask to a one-year deal as the latest piece of evidence. Improvements are expected in big games from guys like Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Brad Marchand, and reputations will be on the line next season.

The Bruins are at roughly 68.2 million in contracts with a tentative 70.2 million cap ceiling set for the summer, and there is a temporary 10 percent bump over the cap ceiling for the summer. That means Chiarelli could spend as much as 9 million more on a free agent or trade acquisition this off-season while working to move the 5 million Tim Thomas cap hit before September rolls around.

The Bruins could conceivably expend all of that cap room while assuming a new CBA will push the salary cap ceiling higher than its ever been, or before a soft cap with a luxury tax is installed just like Major League Baseball.

But Chiarelli and the Bruins cant run on assumptions with a new CBA.

Thats what Mike OConnell and Harry Sinden did seven years ago when they let Sergei Gonchar, Michael Nylander, Mike Knuble and Brian Rolston walk away from the Bruins for nothing in return. They assumed there would be a free agent bonanza coming out of the NHL lockout, and cleared the decks to throw cash at the superstar free agents sure to be free on the market.

Instead the immortally cooked Alex Zhamnov and the ghost of Brian Leetch walked through that door.

Sinden and OConnell totally misread the market and never saw the 24 percent player salary rollback coming. They were left with rookies, retreads and a glorified expansion roster coming out of the work stoppage, and the woeful assumption business model was proven once again to be a failure.

It took years to undo the damage done during that single offseason, and Chiarelli and Co. wont be making the mistake of assuming anything in the new labor deal.

Instead Chiarelli has been conservative while spending close to the 70.2 million cap set for the summer, and is prepared for the worst financial landscape possible should it arise out of the new CBA.

Things could be better or worse for the Bruins when Don Fehr and Gary Bettman get done with each other, but theyll be prepared either way.

Believe it or not, Im trying to be cautious and trying to keep the team together. I like the flexibility we have going forward. Whether its the upcoming RFAs, the contracts that are expiring, whether its the young guys coming up that may be good replacement players, or whether its specifically on Tim Thomas deal his deal will be expiring, said Chiarelli. I actually like that flexibility but I try and be cautious. Im trying to operate under that 70.2 million number; Im a shade under it now.

Keeping the team together is a priority. If for whatever reason the cap goes down a significant number, then we have to deal with it and we feel that we have very good players if we have to move players aroundthen we can do that. I would hope that we dont do that, but the short answer is yes. Im trying to be cautious and stay under that number.

Those dreaming of chasing high-priced free agents or wooing Rick Nash to Boston also arent looking ahead to what awaits after next season has concluded.

Win, lose or draw Chiarelli and the Bruins will have plenty of work to do a year from today.
Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton and Tuukka Rask will all be due for new contracts, and their showing this coming season whether the Bruins fall short during the playoffs or make another deep, inspiring Cup run as they did last season will determine whether the Bruins stay together.

Some of those players may be signed during the season a la Johnny Boychuk, Shawn Thornton and Rich Peverley last season.

But it would appear the upcoming season will have a major impact on the teams future outlook with personnel decisions.

It will be a challenge to win without arguably the most important piece in Tim Thomas, but two seasons ago the Bruins earned the right to get a few cracks at the Cup after proving they were championship material.

Sometimes the most difficult thing in the world is to have faith while a world of sound and fury cries for change and improvements.

Thats what Chiarelli is showing in his current group of players for at least this upcoming season, and it will be much clearer a year from now whether that roster faith has been properly rewarded.

Even in their struggles, Bruins have reason(s) to be thankful

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Even in their struggles, Bruins have reason(s) to be thankful

Thanksgiving in the United States has become an important holiday in NHL circles because it provides a regular-season marker that allows teams to gauge their playoff viability. Roughly 75 percent of teams in a playoff spot at Turkey Day end up qualifying for the postseason, and teams within a handful of points of a playoff spot retain a pretty decent chance of pushing their way in. 

But Thanksgiving is also a great time for teams like the Bruins to also give thanks, just like everybody else, while they’re passing the turkey, the stuffing and the mashed potatoes.

Given that it’s the time of being thankful ahead of the holiday season, here is this humble hockey writer’s annual list of things that each member of the Bruins has to be thankful for as they sit down to enjoy a tryptophan-induced nap:
 
David Pastrnak – The 21-year-old is still thankful for the big bucks he signed for this fall . . . $40 million, to be exact. That should keep him in $8 sushi meals at the mall food court for as long as he wants them.
 
Brad Marchand –Marchand is thankful he finally got bumped up to the top power-play unit over the last couple of seasons, after Claude Julien really dragged his feet putting him there. Eleven power-play goals and 29 power-play points in his last 94 games certainly tell the story.
 
Patrice Bergeron – Bergeron is happy and thankful that he’s regained his health after missing the start this season, and that he’s been able to adequately handle the 21:01 of ice time he’s averaging per game.
 
Torey Krug – Krug is thankful he can again eat a nice steak dinner after being forced to have his food come out of a blender for months after fracturing his jaw during the preseason. Of course, that goes for a nice turkey dinner on Thanksgiving as well.
 
Danton Heinen – The 22-year-old is thankful for second chances after he whiffed during an eight-game audition last season in his first year of pro hockey. He’s making up for it by cementing a role with the Bruins this season now that he’s stronger, faster and a little more confident with the puck.
 
Charlie McAvoy – The 19-year-old defenseman is thankful he decided to leave BU after his sophomore season, making the very correct deduction that he was way more than ready for the NHL. If he plays his cards right, he may be thankful at the end of the season for a Calder Trophy.
 
Anders Bjork – The rookie is thankful that the B’s will be playing the Chicago Blackhawks in the Winter Classic at his alma mater, Notre Dame, next season. He may get to live out a lifelong dream of playing a hockey game on that iconic football field.
 
Jake DeBrusk – The rookie left winger is thankful that he got to score his first NHL goal in front of his family and his teary-eyed dad, Louie, during a pretty cool opening-night win over the Nashville Predators.
 
Tim Schaller – The New Hampshire native is thankful to be playing for his hometown hockey team, of course, but he’s more than just a local boy made good. Tim Schaller has been a positive factor for the bottom-6 with his size, speed and intermittent offense.
 
Zdeno Chara – The captain is thankful that both he and his employer agree that the 40-year-old D-man should continue playing for the Bruins beyond this season. Now it’s just a matter of agreeing on a contract at some point.
 
David Krejci – The playmaking center is thankful his cranky back has loosened up enough for him to get back in the lineup. Now the Bruins and their fans would be thankful if the points would start to follow now that he’s healthy enough to play.
 
Riley Nash – The forward is thankful that the B's thought enough of him to protect him in the expansion draft last summer, a show of commitment to a versatile, smart player who does a lot of little things well.
 
Sean Kuraly – The young center is thankful that he hasn’t yet hurt himself taking the jumping, flying and leaping goal celebrations that he’s quickly becoming known for.
 
Kevan Miller – The defenseman is thankful he’s back playing his natural right side for the most part after being pushed into left-side duty for much of the first couple of months this season.
 
Brandon Carlo – The second-year defenseman is thankful to still be on the Bruins, and not used as possible trade collateral in a possible Matt Duchene deal that was discussed quite a bit last year and through the summer.
 
Jordan Szwarz – The 26-year-old forward is thankful for another NHL opportunity in Boston after he’d gone a couple of years without a sniff during his time in the Arizona Coyotes organization after some early games with them.
 
Frank Vatrano – The Bruins forward and East Longmeadow native should frankly be happy that he’s still in the NHL given the training camp and early season he had with the Bruins. He’s scored a couple of goals and played well lately, so he has to hope that he’s pushed through the bad times.
 
Noel Acciari – The Providence College alum is happy to be healthy again after missing a month with a broken finger, and he’s proven that by going right back to the heavy hitting, shot-blocking tough kid that he’s always been.
 
Ryan Spooner – The speedy playmaker is thankful to be over his torn groin. He needs a strong season in order to once, and for all, show exactly what he could be to the Bruins, or some other team, at the NHL level.
 
Adam McQuaid – The veteran defenseman is thankful that he wasn’t selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft last summer, and instead continues to be a strong, robust presence in the D-zone when healthy.
 
David Backes – The 33-year-old forward is thankful to be back skating again after a couple of painful  bouts with diverticulitis that left him in surgery with 10 inches of his colon being removed. I'm still amazed that he returned to practice as quickly as he did, but he is a hockey player after all.
 
Paul Postma – The  D-man is thankful to be getting a second chance with another organization after spending his entire career with the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets.
 
Matt Beleskey – The winger is thankful that he’s getting a chance to bounce back from last year’s down season, but so far the zero points and minus-7 rating in 13 games leave lots of room for improvement.
 
Tuukka Rask – The No. 1 goaltender is thankful for all the rest he’s getting in the first half of the season, which should presumably make him healthy, fresh and strong down the stretch this season. That is, if he can actually get back in touch with a game that sees him with a turkey-like .897 save percentage right now.  
 
Anton Khudobin – The backup netminder is thankful he’s been given a chance to run with things this season as he’s already twice had a chance to start three games in a row after struggling to gain regular playing time last season.
 
Bruce Cassidy – The coach is thankful for another shot behind an NHL bench 13 years after the first one, and he’s making the most of it with a rag-tag group beset by injuries and youth right now.
 
Don Sweeney – The general manager is thankful the team is still within a handful of points of a playoff spot after everything that went wrong in the first couple of months.
 
Cam Neely – The tean president is thankful for the overwhelming talent within their youth movement and the strong, loyal fan base that backs this team no matter what. But it could be a bit of a rough ride ahead, as the B's rank fourth among the big four Boston sports teams, given how good, deep and close to championship-caliber the others are right now. 

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Talking Points: Khudobin keeps rolling in shootout win

Talking Points: Khudobin keeps rolling in shootout win

GOLD STAR: Who else but Anton Khudobin? The Bruins backup netminder improved to 6-0-2 on the season and upped his NHL-leading save percentage to .938 while making 40 saves in a shootout win over the New Jersey Devils. Khudobin was outstanding stoning players like Nico Hischier and Blake Coleman on breakaways, and stood tall in the third period while the Bruins were outshot 15-5 and ended up tying the game. Even better Khudobin was super-competitive in the shootout where he was challenging shooters, and even stared down Hischier after he poke-checked the puck away from him on his attempt. The Bruins don’t win Wednesday night’s game without Khudobin playing the way he did, and that should pretty much guarantee that he plays again on Friday afternoon against the Penguins.

BLACK EYE: One shot and one hit in 8:28 of ice time for Jimmy Hayes in his first game against his old Bruins team, so pretty much par for the course from the underachieving big guy. Hayes has scored a couple of goals for the Devils this season, but he’s been mostly the same as in the past with sporadic scoring, intermittent tough guy play in the danger areas and then long stretches where you don’t even notice the 6-foot-6 guy out on the ice. Of the two ex-Bruins forwards going up against their old team tonight, Drew Stafford was by far the better of the two with three shots on net and at least one pretty decent scoring chance among them after stealing a puck from Frank Vatrano.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins set things up for their shootout win with a strong opening first period when it came to finishing off plays. Yes, they were outshot by a 15-10 margin, but they also made two big plays with Jake DeBrusk scoring a goal and then David Pastrnak setting up Patrice Bergeron for his fifth goal of the season. Beyond that Anton Khudobin also stopped 14 pucks in the first period that included a number of scoring chances for the Devils, and it showed what the Bruins are capable of when they’re on the right side of some key plays early in the game. Sure, the Devils clawed their way back in, but the Bruins felt like they had the game in control because of the work they put in during the first period.

HONORABLE MENTION: Charlie McAvoy led all skaters with a game-high 27:04 of ice time, and played a strong game while totaling three shots on net and three blocked shots. But he saved the real good stuff for the 11th round of the shootout when he threw a nifty stick move at Cory Schneider, and then roofed a backhanded attempt in tight and close to the net. The McAvoy shootout move begged the question why it took so long to get to him, but also mercifully closed out a shootout session that felt like it could have gone on forever between the Bruins and Devils. The finishing move from the 19-year-old was pure, unadulterated skill with the puck.

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 – the first NHL career point for Matt Grzelcyk arrived in the first period when he picked up an assist on a lead pass off the boards that freed Jake DeBrusk up for a goal-scoring rush.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “It’s the end of a road trip, so give the guys credit. They dug down deep and found a way to get the two points.” – Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy,  

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