Bruins

Hagg Bag: Emptying out the questions before training camp

hagg_bag_mailbag.jpg

Hagg Bag: Emptying out the questions before training camp

With training camps scheduled to open up all around the NHL this week, there won’t be a lot of time for the carefree days of Hagg Bag mailbags until we get into the grind of the regular season. It will be all about double-session practices, preseason games and getting everything into the rhythm that will ultimately catapult us into an 82-game regular season. So with that in mind here’s the final pre-training edition of the Hagg Bag mailbag where we answer any and all questions thrown our way.

As always these are real questions from real fans sent to my twitter account using the #HaggBag hash tag, real emails sent to my jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com email account and real messages sent to my CSN Facebook page.

Without further ado, let’s crack open the bag:

 

#haggbag Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has B's o/u point total at 92.5. If I gave you $100 that you had to bet what side would you take?

--BK (@bkhockey3)

JH: First off, thanks for the hundy. Secondly, I’d go with the over. The Bruins had 95 points last season, and had 93 points and 96 points in the previous two seasons while barely missing the playoff cut in each instance. Are we really going to believe that the B’s are going to be worse this season than they were in the two years they missed the playoffs?

Clearly, I have my doubts that this is a 100-point team quite yet. The defense is still very young in parts, and very big, old and slow in other parts. They have the David Pastrnak contract situation to deal with, and they’re also banking on a couple of young wingers to come through for them in training camp and potentially hold down some pretty important spots in the top-6. So there are definitely some question marks with the Black and Gold, for sure.

All that being said, I don’t see this team doing any worse performance-wise than last season when they sleep-walked through the entire first half of the year. They should be good for right around 95 points this season with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Pastrnak, Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, David Backes and Tuukka Rask holding down the veteran core, and young guys like Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy continuing to step up in a big way.

The problem, as I see it, is that the rest of the Atlantic Division is getting better this year. There’s no way the Tampa Bay Lightning misses the playoff cut again this season with Steve Stamkos healthy, and a team like the Florida Panthers should bounce back strongly after the turmoil in their front office last season. The Buffalo Sabres will be much better this season, and the Maple Leafs should be very formidable as their youngsters continue to improve. Montreal should be a playoff team with Claude Julien coaching up a group in front of the best goalie in the world in Carey Price, and we almost forgot to even mention the team (Ottawa) that was still alive in the playoffs after every other Atlantic Division team had been eliminated.

My point: The Atlantic Division is much improved this season, and I see a scenario where the Bruins could get 95 points and end up missing the postseason again this year. So the 92-point over/under doesn’t mean much to me in that regard.   

 

Why won't Don pay up for pasta? and do you think bran stark is the night king?

--Drew (@ats860)

JH: The Bruins think that David Pastrnak’s asking price is based on what they perceive to be one extravagant contract handed out in Edmonton to Leon Draisaitl. The Bruins are wrong as both Draisaitl ($8.5 million per season) and Vladimir Tarasenko ($7.5 million per season) were very comparable to Pastrnak at similar points in their respective careers. Look at the list of 20-year-old players that have posted 30 goals and 70 points in a season, and it’s a comprehensive list of stud players across the NHL that now includes Pastrnak. He’s an elite talent and the Bruins will have to end up paying him upwards of $7 million per season if they want him on a long-term deal. The Bruins just have to dust the cobwebs off their bank vault and pay the man his money.

I don’t think Bran Stark is the Night King, but I do think it’s one of the Stark children’s ancestors. I’m looking forward to watching one of the dragons melt his face off in the final season, though I guess we should suspect it’s going to come down to him and Jon Snow in hand-to-hand combat for all the Westeros marbles, right?

 

Reaction to John/Dany's big scene at the end, ice dragon (Dragon and snowflake emoji removed for editorial purposes) & wall collapsing? Any hopes/predictions for season 8?

--Thomas Deon (@tdeon26)

JH: Yikes. Those Targaryens creep me out. I’m interested to see if the blue flames can do any harm to Dany or her dragons, or if they are impervious to that kind of flame as well. Hated to see the White Walker army get a dragon, but I guess they had to if they were ever going to get past the wall or even pose any semblance of a threat to an army boasting multiple dragons. My hope for season 8 is that the rest of the despicable characters in Westeros get the same kind of comeuppance as Littlefinger did by the Stark kids in Winterfell. It was kind of great seeing the walls close in around him as all of the Stark kids, with their unique abilities, boxed him and made him pay the ultimate price for setting up their dad like seven seasons ago. By the way, I’ve begun watching Game of Thrones again from the beginning in the last couple of weeks, and it’s really been enjoyable going through it while knowing where the roads lead for each of the characters.   

 

What do you think of Jesse Gabrielle??

--Johnny_Tabarnak (@Johnny_Tabarnak)

JH: I like his tenacity. I like his work ethic. I like his confidence. I like his willingness to do whatever it takes to get things done. I think he may need some development time in the AHL and it may be expecting too much for Gabrielle to turn into the next Marchand as an agitating player with some skill. But I’d be interested to watch him get a look as a fourth line option at some point this season, particularly if he starts putting the puck in the net at the AHL level. I’m still a little skeptical about his final potential as an NHL player until I see more of him, but you can tell he wants it really, really badly. That’s a good place to start if you’ve got a pretty good set of skills to start with, and his junior hockey resume with the gaudy goal totals says that he does.

 

If you had to come up with the words for this incarnation of House Bruin, how would it read?

--PWM @Shawn_Jorton

JH: Hockey youth is coming.

 

If a deal isn't made between Pasta and the Bruins & they trade him, does this further cement that the Bruins don't take care of young talent

--Trevor Krejci (@KrejciTrevor)

JH: It certainly would in my mind, and more importantly it probably would in the minds of other talented young players in the Bruins system. That’s why there is plenty of leverage on Pastrnak’s side even if he doesn’t technically have any rights or leverage as a non-arbitration eligible restricted free agent. The Bruins can’t botch this contract, and they can’t trade Pastrnak away and try to patch something together without him. They don’t have a single player in their organization that can replace his game-breaking ability and dynamic skill set.

 

#haggbag what player(s) get shipped out to make way for young guns this season?

--Mike Wazowski (@shotswithmike)

JH: I don’t think any players get shipped out per se. I still think a player like Ryan Spooner could get moved if Sean Kuraly outplays him in training camp, or if the Bruins decide they want to slide David Backes back over to center. I also think that Kenny Agostino could start the year in Providence, and is more of an experienced fallback option if Anders Bjork, Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen all look like they need more AHL development time. I’d expect the Bruins might give Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson a little run on the wing as well, and see if that would a better place for him to start his NHL career if he shows that he’s ready. My gut instinct on JFK is that he’s definitely going to need some development time in Providence, but I guess we’ll see about that over the next few weeks.

 

Who's your dark horse (sleeper) candidate to crack the opening night roster for the B's?

--Robert Brown (@bruins2nine)

JH: Jakub Zboril. I don’t think it’s going to happen and it would seem that he needs some time to mature and develop his game at the AHL level, but he’s got the talent to make the NHL roster right now if he’s focused on the task at hand. I’m just not sure it would be a good idea on an NHL roster to have three D-men (McAvoy, Carlo and Zboril) in their first or second year. That’s the kind of thing that could keep a team out of the playoffs because of mistakes and too much inexperience. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Morning Skate: NHL ref McCauley's unique style wins fans around league

boston-bruins-tuukka-rask-referee-wes-mccauley-11918.jpg

Morning Skate: NHL ref McCauley's unique style wins fans around league

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, watching a "Rocky" movie marathon on in the background. Good times.

*A good piece from SI about colorful NHL referee Wes McCauley, who was seemingly made for his job on the ice in stripes.

*Boy it really feels like the Ottawa Senators are laying the groundwork for defenseman Erik Karlsson to be traded, doesn’t it? Clearly, Karlsson is a special kind of player, but it begs the question behind Ottawa doing all this. Do they merely not want to pay him, or do they feel like he’s a tad overrated based on the adoration he gets from the fancy stats crowd. The truth might also be that if he was that much of a game-changing force, the Senators would consistently be better than they’ve been over the course of his brilliant, Norris Trophy-winning career. So the Sens might be looking to cash out before the inevitable decline begins to happen in his game, or the foot injuries begin to catch up to him.

*In the interest of self-promotion, here’s a podcast I did a guest spot on with FOH (Friend of Haggs) Greg Wyshynski and Emily Kaplan talking about what’s behind such a stunningly good season from the Boston Bruins. Always a pleasure talking hockey with Wysh and Emily.  

*Taylor Hall has been very effective for the New Jersey Devils in his second season there, and there are some good reasons behind it.

*In a big blow to the New York Rangers, puck-moving defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk has been lost indefinitely to knee surgery.

*For something completely different: These days they do trailers for the seasons of animated "Star Wars" shows as well. I’ve been in and out on "Star Wars Rebels", but I’ve also been entertained whenever I’ve actually watched it.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE


 

Haggerty: Time to look at the Bruins as one of the NHL's best

bruins-islanders-haggery-column-11918.jpg

Haggerty: Time to look at the Bruins as one of the NHL's best

There is no exaggeration or sports writing hyperbole when we say the Bruins are the NHL’s hottest team.

They secured points in their 15th game in a row (11-0-4) with a 5-2 demolishing of the New York Islanders on Thursday night, and are pulling away from the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs with a five-point lead for second place in the Atlantic Division. Oh, by the way, they also hold three games in hand over the Leafs. Amazingly, the Bruins are just five points behind the division-leading Tampa Bay Lightning with a game in hand on them as well while boasting the NHL’s second-best goal differential with a strong plus-36 mark.

MORE BRUINS:

Basically, the Bruins are kicking butt, scoring goals and taking names all across the league.

Taking all this into account, it’s also no longer a leap to say the Black and Gold are one of the best teams in the league after showing no signs of slowing down the past two months. They’ve embarrassed the Coyotes, Blue Jackets, Hurricanes and spanked the Islanders, Senators and Canadiens multiple times in their stretch of dominance while outscoring opponents by a whopping 60-18 over those past 15 games.

It looked like they might slacken a little bit when they were a tad bit rusty coming off the five-day bye week with a couple of close, slightly sloppy games against the Habs and Dallas Stars, but they’ve bounced back with dominants wins over the Canadiens and Islanders.  

“We feel so good about our game that we know over the course of 60 minutes that we’ll get our chances if we’re working hard and stick to you know our layers and stick to our defensive posture that will turn into offense,” said Torey Krug. “For us, you know, it’s just confidence in our system and the way that we’re rolling right now. Guys are stepping up, we’re getting contributions from everyone and that’s a big part of it.”

So how are they doing it?

Well, the Perfection Line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak has gone supernova in January. Marchand (five goals, 14 points in seven games) and Bergeron (eight goals, 13 points in seven games) are averaging two points per game. Not only that, but David Krejci and Ryan Spooner have been point-per-game players on the second line to provide extra offensive support, Danton Heinen continues to bring an offensive element to the third line and the fourth line is bringing energy and physicality while taking regular shifts.

Basically, it’s come to the point where Boston’s top line is arguably the best 200-foot line in the NHL and their other three forward lines aren’t allowing opponents to simply key on the brilliantly flawless Perfection Line. That allows Bruce Cassidy to roll his forward lines, wear opponents down as they get deeper into games and simply overwhelm teams with their depth and quality while playing at a high pace.

“On our team this year I know for a fact that our four lines can play against anybody,” said Cassidy. “That’s the message I want to send to the players. I want them to feel like they can play against anybody, but I also want to be mindful of it and not get burnt by that. People will look at you and say ‘Geez, you’ve got all these great defensive forwards and you don’t use them.’ I’m not going to match David Krejci every night against the other team’s best line, but I don’t mind if for a shift or two they’re out there. That’s just the rhythm of the game, and I’m not going to jerk [players] off the ice [to play hard matchups].”

It’s not just about offense, though, as Zdeno Chara has made it his personal challenge to turn Boston’s penalty kill into Operation Shutdown. The Bruins basically won Wednesday night’s game in Boston when Chara stayed on the ice for nearly an entire, extended 5-on-3 power play for the Canadiens where they didn’t get much of a sniff. The 40-year-old was at it again on Thursday night with 25 plus minutes of ice time while blocking multiple shots killing an Islanders power play. Teams will always need defensive warriors to win big, important hockey games, and Chara is still the biggest, baddest shutdown defenseman warrior on the block.

“[Chara] thrives on it; he wants it. Sometimes you’ve got to grab him by the scruff – well I can’t – but [B’s assistant coach] Kevin [Dean] will try to get him off in [some of] those situations – not in a five-on-three – but he relishes that role,” said Cassidy, of Chara’s penalty killing ferocity. “If you look at our PK all year it has been in the top five, maybe slipped out to seven or eight. Zee is the biggest reason on it – and the goaltender has to make the saves. That’s not being disrespectful to [Patrice Bergeron], who does a great job, or [Riley] Nash, but Zee sees a lion’s share of it, and he sets the tone on it.”

Mix in consistently strong goaltending with the offense and the defense and it’s easy to see why the Bruins are dishing out humble pie to just about every opponent that crosses their path. It will be interesting to see if they can catch a Tampa Bay team without Victor Hedman for the next six weeks and if they can truly lock down home ice in the first round of the playoffs against the Maple Leafs.

But one thing to keep in mind before crowning the Bruins as the NHL’s next big thing: There is a huge youth faction on this team.

The five or six rookies in the lineup on a nightly basis have been instrumental to their success and, at this point, Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, Matt Grzelcyk and Sean Kuraly are becoming consistent contributors. But they’re only halfway through their first NHL season and Boston’s schedule gets much heavier in the second half. The Bruins, rookies and all, will be playing a taxing 16 games in March and it’s doubtful they’re going to come out of that heavy stretch at full strength.

It’s a very real possibility that Boston’s heralded rookies hit a wall at some point the next couple of months and they’ll need to be able to bounce back.

“I think we will keep an eye on it, but we have no intention of decreasing the workload right now until we see a drop-off because I don’t want to mess up a good thing,” said Cassidy. “You want to be out in front in some situations, but because [Charlie McAvoy] is so strong I think he’s going to be okay. But that will play itself out, and that will be a conversation with a number of guys and not just [McAvoy].

“How will DeBrusk handle it? Kuraly has played a lot of hockey for us, but he’s a little more down the lineup and doesn’t play as many minutes. Grzelcyk has now played a lot of games in a row. We have a few young guys that we’re going to have to monitor.”

The good news is that this Bruins team has been extremely resilient this season and they have a hardened, experienced leadership group that’s going to push them through. The Bruins also believe they’re one of the NHL’s best teams after the past couple of months. They’re absolutely right after the two-month run of awesome that they’ve been on.  

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE