Haggerty: Bruins need to fight temptation to pick through Capitals wreckage

Haggerty: Bruins need to fight temptation to pick through Capitals wreckage

It would be a natural instinct for anybody that’s tempted into thinking one or two quick fix moves could put an improving Bruins hockey club on the fast track to being a true contender next season.

Cam Neely and Don Sweeney both already identified top-6 left wing and a top-4 defenseman on the left side as ideal shopping list items, and have surmised that young, established NHL players might be a better choice for either one of those spots rather than simply hoping another prospect is ready to pop in training camp. Guys like Gabriel Landeskog and Jacob Trouba would fit into that kind of “young pro” category, and explains why they’ve been linked to the Black and Gold in the past.

It will be easier said than done for the Bruins front office to swing deals for that class of potential players, however, and the price will be considerable given how high impact those spots are on an NHL roster.

“You see the way that the game’s going. There’s a lot of speed in the games. We added some of that when we saw some [young] players that brought some speed, and we played a faster game actually. We practiced faster and played faster,” said Neely, during the end-of-the-year press conference with the B’s President and ownership group. “I think there are opportunities for guys that are in our system to maybe push and have some speed. I still like to play hard and go to the net, and those are areas where it’s difficult to score in this league and you’ve got to get there to score those goals.

“Whether we have someone on the left side on the back end that can push for a job, or we go out and find that player. But, I think our right side on the back end is pretty well-covered. Maybe a little bit of help on the left side on the wing that can maybe contribute offensively. We’re hoping we maybe had a couple players in our system that are maybe able to push and show that they’re ready to play in the NHL and contribute.”

So given all of those factors, let’s back to our original thought.

It would be pretty natural to see a flaming dumpster of a playoff train wreck like the Washington Capitals and feel like that might be the kind of situation where the Bruins could reap some sort of opportunistic benefit. The sense is major changes are coming to the Capitals organization after once again failing to advance past the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and the biggest change could be Russian sniper Alex Ovechkin getting shipped out of the nation’s capital.   

Without taking into account cap hits, trade costs or anything else in the real world of the NHL, a big, sharp-shooting left wing like Ovechkin could be amazing paired with a playmaking center like David Krejci that’s always thrived with a goal-scoring power forward.

The Bruins will also have the cap space and the ideal geographic location to attract another Washington refugee in defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who sounds like he wants to be a No. 1 defenseman wherever he signs a deal this summer for an expectedly massive seven-year, $49 million plus contract. That’s the going rate for qualifying as the premier D-man on the free agent market.

Ovechkin scored the second-lowest goals and point totals of his career with the 33 goals and 69 points in 82 games this season for the Caps, and finished with just five goals and eight points in Washington’s 13 playoff games this spring. That included a total crap-out in Game 7 while Ovechkin played through knee and hamstring injuries that were no doubt painful, but also weren’t injuries serious enough to require surgery after the season.

Ovechkin is signed for four more years at a whopping $9.5 million on the wrong side of 30 years old, and is clearly showing signs of slowing down while poised to play in his 1,000th NHL game next season. Still, this is a premier scoring left wing with 6-foot-3, 239-pound size that potted 50 plus goals in each of the previous three seasons prior to a 2016-17 campaign that clearly wasn’t his best.

The 28-year-old Shattenkirk finished with 13 goals and 56 points in 80 games for St. Louis and Washington after being the biggest fish landed at the NHL trade deadline. The former BU standout is hitting free agency at a time where he’s going to get both term and massive, ridiculous money similar to the deal Florida handed out to fellow elite puck-mover Keith Yandle last summer.  Shattenkirk was a dud in the playoffs for Washington, however, with a goal and six points in 13 postseason games, and a subpar effort in Game 7 that was on pair with Ovechkin’s disappearing act. Shattenkirk is now a rough minus-15 in 60 playoff games throughout his career, and looks more like a second-pairing/power play guy to most clear-eyed talent evaluators around the league.

So should the Bruins take a swing at either of these talented players after watching the Capitals fall to the Penguins again in the “history keeps repeating itself” Stanley Cup playoff storyline for the last decade? Or even double up on them to deliver an instant roster upgrade for the next couple of seasons in a perilous quick fix?

The answer is a resounding “No.”

The Bruins organization is on the rise because they’ve invested heavily in drafting and development, and are now introducing a slew of talented young prospects into the fold. The coaches love them because they’re skilled, coachable and full of energy, and the GM loves them because they’re super cheap in an NHL world dominated by the salary cap.

When you have an established veteran group like the Bruins that boasts both veteran Cup-winning experience and good people at their core, it’s the perfect complement for several waves of young players breaking into the league.  

The worst thing a team like the Bruins could do right now is wrongly deduce that they need to massively overpay for veteran players, and bring on NHL players that have shown a track record of choking during the big moments in their career. It’s a scathing indictment of Ovechkin’s competitiveness and makeup in crunch time that he’s never really won anything of significance from a team perspective in his pro hockey career. Shattenkirk is about to become a massively overpaid defenseman approaching 30 years old, and there are enough warning signs that his game will begin to deteriorate well before his next contract ends.

The Bruins already made the mistake of overpaying for an aging, slower veteran when they inked David Backes to a five-year contract last summer. At least they did so knowing that Backes would add necessary qualities like toughness, leadership and accountability into the Boston dressing room. There isn’t the same kind of argument to be made with Ovechkin and Shattenkirk, who would amount to hired guns brought on by the Bruins to fill organizational roles that they wouldn’t be able to fill internally.

The quickest way for the Bruins to ruin the slow, patient building process that is finally getting some traction? It would be to go for the quick fix and chase short-term solutions, and that’s exactly what Ovechkin and Shattenkirk represent as they gain some distance from the Capitals carnage from earlier this week.

It should be a giant pass from the Bruins on both Ovechkin and Shattenkirk, and the guess here is that it will be from a B’s management group that wants to do this the right way.   

Bruins start strong and don't look back vs Lightning

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Bruins start strong and don't look back vs Lightning

GOLD STAR: Torey Krug assisted on all three goals and finished off with a couple of strong games while stepping up in the absence of Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy. Clearly all of the D-men stepped up knowing that their top pairing wasn’t going to be available against the Lightning, but it was Krug at the offensive end with his three assists that put him over 50 points for the second straight season. They were big plays too, whether it was finding David Pastrnak in the slot for the first goal or firing wide of the net on the second score that David Backes pumped into the net. The third goal was once again a PP shot from the outside circle that Andrei Vasilevskiy kicked out and was eventually shot past him by Riley Nash. Pair that with a couple of hits and a blocked shot in 19:37 of ice time, and it was a full night for Krug.

BLACK EYE: Nikita Kucherov was not his MVP self in this one. Instead he managed just a single shot on net in his 18:43 of ice time, and missed the net with three other shot attempts in a harmless, invisible kind of game. Kucherov also didn’t really do much of anything else in a game where the Bruins didn’t have defensive stoppers Zdeno Chara or Patrice Bergeron, which has to start making the Lightning wonder how difficult it’s going to be for them when those two players return ahead of the postseason. The Lightning were rested and waiting for the Bruins for a couple of days and should have been at their absolute best. Kucherov was among a number of Bolts players that were far from that, including goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. 

MORE - Scary incident involving Backes

TURNING POINT: The Bruins came out of the starting gate firing and roared past the Lightning with a strong opening period. They outshot Tampa Bay by a 12-5 margin in the opening 20 minutes and didn’t even allow a single scoring chance to the Bolts while playing letter perfect hockey for pretty much the entire time. That led to a David Pastrnak goal little more than three minutes into the game, and then the Bruins doubled their lead with a power play strike midway through the game. Once the Bruins had built up a two-goal lead with the kind of strong defense that they were dealing out on Saturday night, it was going to be awfully difficult to beat them. And Tampa didn’t even come close. 

HONORABLE MENTION: Riley Nash was dropped from the top line to the third line to start the game, and responded with one of his best all-around games of the season. Nash scored on a power play strike from the slot after a big rebound bounced to him there, and that pretty much iced the game in the second period. But he was good all night with a couple of shot attempts, a couple of hits and a couple of takeaways in 18:30 of ice time, and was excellent in the face-off circle while winning 9-of-11 draws in a big performance for the Black and Gold. Nash also stepped back into his usual spots once Backes was lost to injury at the end of the first period, and resumed the kind of solid play that’s allowed him to have his best NHL season in Boston this year. 

BY THE NUMBERS: 15-6-1 – the career record for Tuukka Rask vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning after another shutout win on Saturday night. 

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I’ll play a second period one of these days.” –a smiling David Backes as he limped out of the visitor’s dressing room in Tampa after leaving tonight’s win over Tampa with a laceration above his right knee caused by a skate blade. Backes was also tossed from Thursday night’s game in Florida with a match penalty in the first period as well.


Bruins make a statement with 3-0 win over Lightning

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Bruins make a statement with 3-0 win over Lightning

TAMPA – The undermanned Bruins went into Saturday’s big showdown with Tampa Bay missing four of their best players, and they lost another in the game when David Backes exited after catching a skate blade above the right knee. 

MORE - A scary incident involving Backes

But as adversity hasn’t stopped the Bruins all season long, it didn’t stop them against on Saturday against the best team in the NHL. Instead it inspired them as the Bruins scored a pair of goals early and rode that fast start all the way to an impressive 3-0 victory over the Lightning at Amalie Arena. The victory closes the Bruins to within two points of the Lightning for the NHL’s top spot with two more meetings with Tampa over the season’s final dozen games. 

The Bruins scored little more than three minutes into the game when Torey Krug fed David Pastrnak cutting down the middle of the slot, and Pastrnak slid a backhanded bid underneath Andrei Vasilevskiy for his 29th goal of the season. Backes got on the board next prior to his exit from the game, and hammered a loose puck in the slot after Krug had missed wide with a point blast that rocketed off the end boards. 

Krug was at it making plays again in the second period when he fired a shot from the outside of the face-off circle that Vasilevskiy kicked into the slot area where Riley Nash corralled. Nash put it home for his 14th goal of the season, and that was enough for the Bruins to hold on for victory as the Lightning threw everything at the net in the third period looking for some offense. 

Rask was solid at that point in the game as he stopped everything in front of him and made 22 saves to add to his gaudy lifetime record against Tampa Bay over the course of his B’s career. There was no update on Backes following the game other than his laceration required “several stitches” and that he was done for the night after the incident late in the first period.