Hagg Bag mailbag: Plenty of offseason thoughts on Bruins changes

Hagg Bag mailbag: Plenty of offseason thoughts on Bruins changes

The season is over, the playoffs are here and the Bruins are off to golf courses all over North America, Europe and parts unknown with a few of their players destined for the IIHF World Championships in Russia. So the shock and finality of Boston’s finish has settled in, but that leaves a lot of questions for a group that seems determined to return both the head coach and the core group of players despite missing the postseason two years in a row.

So we’ll open up the Hagg Bag mailbag for a new round of questions from twitter followers using the #HaggBag hash tag, emails sent to my address and messages sent to my CSN Facebook page. Now on to the bag:



Thank you for your excellent coverage of the Bruins. At this point, as a fan, I think Cam needs to go. I would hope that you would be equally tough on Cam and Charlie Jacobs as Claude. I would hope the Bruins make quick and decisive decision(s) on the future, and not go slow like last year. I cannot think that there is a better coach out there than Claude, so I hope they keep him and let Cam go.

Thank you for reading

Adam from Maine


JH: Thanks for the kind words, Adam.

I don’t think Cam Neely is going anywhere, anytime soon. It’s interesting to note that Don Sweeney appears to be going on a limb a bit with the decision to retain the incumbent head coach, and insisted last week that keeping Julien was his call. Neely might have wanted a change behind the bench after watching the team fall apart down the stretch two years in a row, or there might have been some hesitation firing him with the concern that another team wasn’t going to pick up the $2.75 million Julien is owed by the B’s in each of the next two seasons.

Either could be true, but Sweeney stepped up and made the final decision. What will be interesting is how the assistant coaches shake out for Julien headed into his 10th season in Boston. Doug Houda is gone, and it’s expected the Bruins aren’t going to renew the contracts for Doug Jarvis and Joe Sacco after failing to qualify for the postseason.

So Julien will be returning with an almost brand new coaching staff, and that can often be one of the last gasps for a coach before the inevitable pink slip comes like it was for Randy Carlyle in Toronto a couple of years ago.

If an Adam Oates or even a Bruce Cassidy is on Julien’s staff to start next year, that in and of itself should set off alarm bells and whistles that job security isn’t at an all-time high in Boston. Nor should it be for a coach in Julien who's admittedly been great over the last 10 years, but might not be the perfect fit for a group of young players looking to break through, push the puck up ice quickly, and open things up offensively.

Neely is essentially a figurehead put into place by the Jacobs family to run things at the hockey ops level in Boston, and be the face of the franchise with Charlie Jacobs more steeped in the hockey business end of things on Causeway Street. Everything runs through his office, but it would appear the President gives the GM the latitude needed to do his job.

Sweeney just has to do much better than he did in his first season where he missed on Rinaldo, Kemppainen, Matt Irwin, took pennies on the dollar for Dougie Hamilton, failed to land a young franchise D-man at last summer’s draft and misread the situation going into his first trade deadline with the team.  Sweeney does the leg work and finds the players, and it’s Neely simply giving his feedback at the end of that process.

Jacobs provides the necessary money and the resources for Neely, Sweeney and Julien to contend for the playoffs, and spent to the salary cap during the years when the Bruins evolved into a Stanley Cup Final-worthy bunch. It’s not an ownership problem at all at this point, and could only be at fault if they pushed for damaging short term moves simply to make some the short money in the playoffs. Both Neely and Sweeney swear that’s not the case, so we have to take them at their word on that.

The bottom line: this team should have been in the playoffs last year, and that late season collapse is on the coach and the players. The roster needs to be better, but the heart, spirit and character of the hockey club need to be much better as well.


Shirley you can't be serious!

--Rob Brodeur via twitter (@Brodie52)


JH: I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley!



“No. I don’t believe we need a major overhaul,” Sweeney said.

Joe, can you tell me what team Don Sweeney was watching this past season? The AHL level defense, lack of leadership and overall failure to show up in crucial games would make a fan think otherwise.  So I guess a few minor tweaks and then the Bruins will be a cup contender?

Mr. Sweeney needs a serious reality check.


Greg Smith   

Seriously annoyed Bruins fan


JH: One has to hope that Sweeney was simply trying the “under-promise and over-deliver” strategy for a change at last week’s press conference. It sets him up to quietly attempt to pull off some big moves, but it also gave off a troubling whiff of complacency after missing the playoff cut two years in a row. Because returning to training camp next fall with the same head coach and the same core group of B’s players is going to lead to a very chance of similar results for a third straight season, and nobody wants the B’s to once again fall short when it matters most at the end of the regular season.

At the very least everybody needs to at least feel like the Bruins are building toward something better, and it was difficult to see the proof of that growth at the end of this season. That hockey club was crying out for a change at the end of the year, and needs it in order to start finding some answers.

Very few of the young players truly got better this past season, a couple of Boston’s very good players had excellent seasons and the Bruins wasted good future assets at the trade deadline on a team that didn’t deserve the rental players. If that happens again next season, watch out below everybody!


Hi Joe,

From my view there has been a noticeable and welcome uptick in the hate factor during these Stanley Cup playoffs. Does this have anything to do with the players being told that the leashes are off?

Hockey is such a more compelling and watchable sport when violence is allowed and dare I say condoned within the product. As a fan, I fear the sport is going too far into the college/euro game during the regular season. Frankly it's become a passionless bore. But these playoffs have been fascinatingly angry. Your thoughts?

Long live the old way,
Allan in Swampscott


JH: Amen, Allan. I’ve felt the hate in these playoff games and it’s glorious. The one exception is the hit from behind by Bellemare on Dmitry Orlov that earned him a one game suspension on a play where the Washington defenseman could have been seriously injured. That was dangerous and reckless, and both players were fortunate there wasn’t a far worse result on the play.

But the Isles and Panthers dropping the gloves? Or Brian Boyle giving Justin Abdelkader the chicken dance when he wouldn’t drop the gloves? Or Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford losing his mind when a St. Louis Blues gets in his kitchen in the crease? These are all parts of a ramped up emotional level that isn’t always there anymore during the regular season.

I’m a proponent of fighting remaining within the game, and lament the loss of a random Tuesday night game during the regular season turning into a Pier Six brawl (trademark Gorilla Monsoon) on the ice with fighting way, way down across the league. But it’s also difficult to ignore the concussion data and the very real concussion-related difficulties that many ex-NHL players are experiencing later in life after so many blows to the head.

It’s a particular concern to a team like the Bruins with a fan base that expects the rough stuff, and fully embraces the violence. I was watching the footage of the 2008 game between the Bruins and Stars where the entire B’s team basically fought Steve Ott and Sean Avery, and the B’s didn’t have a single hate-soaked game like that all of last season. That’s definitely part of the problem on Causeway Street that Don Sweeney and Cam Neely have to address, but it goes well beyond simply finding a player or two that knows how to fight.


If you don't like Independence Day you suck as a person. Come at me bro.

Mitch Quirk via twitter (@The MitchQuirk)


JH: Independence Day sucks, and by definition that means you suck too Mitchy. Just kidding, bro. But in reality please have the good sense that Will Smith has, and completely skip this summer’s sequel that looks just as cheesy as the original movie. If the Fresh Prince took a pass on that payday then you should too. I still maintain that Independence Day was the single most disappointing movie experience I’ve ever had, and it’s the fault of the Emmerich/Devlin team that cranked out that piece of popcorn movie garbage along with the awful Godzilla reboot and the “meh” original Stargate movie.


Hi Joe,

I know it's premature, but looking at next season, is Julien the right coach to further develop Spooner, Vatrano, and Pasta while potentially integrating Heinen, Vesey, Carlo, and O'Gara? I think Claude is an excellent coach, but like I heard on the NHL Network recently "Veteran coaches don't like green bananas, they want ripe bananas".


Ray Guarino


JH: This is the ultimate question when it comes to Julien. Everybody knows he’s a great hockey coach, and that he can bring defensive structure and experience to the table for a hockey club with the talent to implement his system. This is why Ottawa could have been such a great fit for him: a playoff-level hockey club bursting with young veteran talent that just needs some defensive structure in order to start realizing their potential.

But there’s a nagging feeling that players like Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak could be better under a coach that’s a little more open to skill players taking risks to make offensive plays, and that guys like Colin Miller and Frank Vatrano didn’t develop like they should have last season. It’s hard to imagine how there wasn’t room on the NHL roster for both of those players don’t the stretch last season before it became desperate at the very end.

So one has to be a bit concerned about what all of that could mean for the next wave of prospects and young players on their way for the Bruins. Does Julien still have the patience that he did 10 years ago to see things through with his young guys, and keep giving them chances even if it costs the team some wins somewhere along the way? That’s the million dollar question because Julien seemed to hit a point where he stopped doing that last season, and was instead caught up with the meaningless short term goal of being first round playoff cannon fodder.

Backes escapes skate blade situation with deep cut that 'wasn't too dangerous'

USA TODAY Sports Photo

Backes escapes skate blade situation with deep cut that 'wasn't too dangerous'

TAMPA – David Backes certainly didn’t escape the scary situation with an errant skate blade unscathed, of course. 

The 33-year-old limped his way to the Bruins team bus out of Amalie Arena after Boston’s 3-0 shutout win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, and needed approximately 18 stitches to close up the gash on his right thigh. But Backes was still able to joke about it as he exited the dressing room while knowing that it could have been much, much worse with that kind of freak accident on the ice. 

"I'll play a second period one of these days,” said a smiling Backes, who was forced out of Saturday night’s loss with the skate blade cut in the last minute of the first period and exited the Florida loss as well after catching a match penalty in the first period as well. Luckily for him, there was no structural damage to Backes’ right leg after Yanni Gourde caught him in the thigh area as both players were down on the ice around the Tampa net.

MORE - Haggerty: B's make a statement to Lightning, rest of NHL

There was a lot of blood, however, as he quickly exited the ice, sped past the bench and headed right to the Bruins dressing room with Bruins trainer Donnie DelNegro trailing right behind. 

“I went in and saw him between periods. He’s okay. There’s no structural damage. There will be concern going forward about swelling or infection, but it looks like he’ll be okay. We’ll classify him as day-to-day, but I don’t know if he’ll be ready to play on Monday,” said Bruce Cassidy of Backes, who actually scored the second goal of the game for the Bruins as a power play strike. “You see a guy coming off like that and you see the blood pooling up, and you’re always worried they could hit an artery somewhere. He was able to get up. That was the first good sign and he was able to be tended to quickly. 

“It is scary. But we were told it would be a deep cut that would require some stitches, and it wasn’t too dangerous.”

For now it just becomes an eventful month for Backes where he’s been suspended, tossed out of a game with a match penalty and now forced out of a game after a freak skate blade incident, but there’s no doubt he’ll return better and stronger than ever in rapid fashion as he’s done through the last two seasons with the Bruins.


B's make a big statement to Tampa, rest of the NHL with gutsy win

AP Photo

B's make a big statement to Tampa, rest of the NHL with gutsy win

TAMPA – One has to wonder what the Tampa Bay Lightning are thinking after Saturday night’s game. 

It’s probably something along the lines of “Oh crap” after the Bruins completely shut them down while missing their top defensemen pairing, their best all-around player and top line center, their most impactful rookie forward and also losing their best power forward, who was filling in as top line center, in the first period. The undermanned Bruins made a big, fat statement with their 3-0 win over the well-rested, healthy Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena at the end of a long, four-game road trip, and now sit just two points behind the Bolts with 12 games to play in the regular season. 

MORE - Scary incident involving Backes

It was impressive enough that the Black and Gold won at all against the NHL’s best team while missing so many of their top shelf players, but to do it while also totally shutting down Tampa’s offense was something worth remarking about. The Bruins defense and goaltending had been playing a bit fast and loose for the better part of a month, and had been bailed out time and again by an offense that’s been dropping big numbers lately. 

But the Bruins went into Saturday night determined to leave an impression with the Lightning about what awaits them next month once the playoffs start, and they did it with physical, gritty defense that left Tampa with little space to operate. Even better the Bruins defensemen moved the puck pretty much perfectly and swiftly all night, blocked shots with hard-nosed determination and proved they could do more than survive without Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy. 

That’s damned impressive when you consider the opponents from Tampa Bay lining up against them with a chance to clinch their playoff spot, and what’s on the line for both teams headed into the final three weeks of the regular season. 

“We were looking at it as more of a bounce-back against a really good team, and let’s see where we are. I thought we answered the bell,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “Probably the biggest win in a long time. We've had some nice comebacks and some high-scoring affairs, but it was nice to get a zero [goals allowed] in the column. It’s been a while. 

“It was just good, solid team defense…winning pucks. It was probably not the prettiest hockey, but I thought the goals we scored were pretty nice ones going to the net. It was playoff hockey. I thought we were better at it than they were tonight. Who knows how the next one is going to go, but we’re going to enjoy this.”

It was clear early on that the Bruins wanted to set the tone both physically and style of play-wise, and they did just that. The pounding physicality clearly bothered the Lightning as Steven Stamkos made an uncharacteristic choice to retaliate against Tim Schaller after he threw a heavy hit on the Tampa Bay star player. That landed Stamkos in the box and set the Bruins up for their first of two power play goals on the evening. 

Those two power play goals were proof enough that the Bruins had their special teams in good order, but it took just a combined 23 seconds of power play time to strike for those two scores against the Lightning penalty kill. That’s the kind of thing that’s going to keep Jon Cooper and the Tampa Bay coaching staff up at night before the final two meetings between these two teams. The suffocating defense, the stout physicality and the quick strike offense just completely overwhelmed the Lightning, and things went exactly according to the game plan that Bruce Cassidy had set out for them prior to the game. 

“We’re a confident group back there, and when we play the way we’re supposed to we can compete with anybody,” said Kevan Miller, who played a punishing, physical 21:41 of ice time in the win. “It’s that time of year where we’re pushing for the playoffs, we’re grinding away and we knew as a group after [the Florida loss] we needed to tighten things up. We did that. That’s a tough team over there, so you need to take time and space away from them. As a group we did a great job of that.”

About the only thing that didn’t go right for the Bruins early was David Backes exiting quickly at the end of the first after his right thigh got sliced by an errant skate blade. But even the 33-year-old Backes managed to avoid serious injury despite approximately 18 stitches to close the wound, and was cracking jokes about it as he limped to the Bruins bus postgame.

Clearly things can and will change with two games remaining between the two teams in the final three weeks of the regular season. The Bruins should theoretically be even better and more difficult to beat once they got all of their key players healthy, and that’s got to be a frightening prospect for the Lightning. 

MORE - Talking Points: B's start strong and don't look back vs Tampa

Then again perhaps the Bolts were a little rusty after three days off leading into Saturday night, and they needed to be kicked in the teeth by the Bruins to start getting that hunger back. Either way the Bruins are within a single win of pulling into a tie for the top spot in the East and home ice throughout the entire Eastern Conference playoff bracket. Nobody should be surprised the Bruins did it once again while fighting through injuries and a brutal late season schedule, and that’s a testament to how stubbornly they’ve successfully plowed through adversity this season. 

The dominant win over Tampa on Saturday night just serves as another piece of compelling hockey evidence that something special is building with the Black and Gold. It’s become impossible to deny or ignore as the Bruins continue bucking the odds in a way that should have everybody else’s full attention around the NHL at this point.