Bruins

Haggerty: Bruins need more than draft-weekend output if they want improvement

Haggerty: Bruins need more than draft-weekend output if they want improvement

CHICAGO – With the 2017 NHL Draft officially wrapped up and the proverbial eve of NHL free agency upon us, there wasn’t anything to get particularly alarmed or excited about when it comes to the Bruins actions over the last few days.

The Bruins lost a potential-filled defenseman that might never actually realize any of it in Colin Miller, and they followed up the expansion draft subtraction with an average draft class where they addressed defense, goaltending and their depth up front. But at the same time, it didn’t really feel like the Bruins got anybody in the draft that they were particularly bowled over by, and the B’s lost a potential trade chip once they’d used their 18th overall pick in the first round to select smooth-skating defenseman Urho Vaakenainen.

MORE: NHL shouldn't overthink offsides challenges any longer; they should just get rid of them

The sense at this address, though not confirmed by anybody inside either organization, is that the Bruins weren’t willing to trade a first-round pick as part of a package for Wild defenseman Marco Scandella, and would have preferred Jonas Brodin if they were going to give up that kind of asset. Don Sweeney confirmed that Boston’s first-round pick was in play, but stressed it was for “target specific” players that the Bruins coveted.

A deal was never worked out for one of those “target specific” players, so the Bruins continue to move on and hope that something breaks over the next few weeks.

“I was on record saying we’d be offering our first-round pick for target-specific players, and we did do that,” said Sweeney. “I don’t blame teams for not necessarily wanting to do it, so we went ahead with our own pick. I was target specific on a few players and there were other considerations being discussed.

“It’s an area we’d like to address and help our team currently. I’m not going to stop exploring areas where we can improve our club. It’s hard to tell [which way trade talks will go]. Maybe people will feel that picks from next year’s draft will be even better, or they like that pool of prospects a little bit better. It’s hard to tell [where trade discussions will go], to be perfectly honest.”

At least the Bruins were right on time with picking a Finnish player in the first round as a record six players from Finland were nabbed in the first round of the draft, and one would hope that means all will benefit from the hockey talent streaming out of that Scandinavian country right now. It will take years to determine how Vaakenainen, Jack Studnicka, Jeremy Swayman and the other members of the 2017 draft class ultimately pan out, but it sure doesn’t feel like the same outpouring of talent as in 2015 when Brandon Carlo, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Jake DeBrusk and the rest of the Bruins draft picks officially entered the Black and Gold system.

B’s assistant GM Scott Bradley admitted as much when discussing the entire draft class on Saturday afternoon at the United Center, home of the Chicago Blackhawks. The Bruins got good value, addressed organizational needs and felt good about the players they picked in each and every spot, but there isn’t going to be a Charlie McAvoy or David Pastrnak coming out of a really “meh” group of draft-eligible hockey players.

“Our first rounder is somebody we’re excited about. His skating is close to what we call a ‘5’ in our system. He’s a left-shot. You compare his skating to [Paul] Coffey at times, really mobile and transition defenseman,” said Bradley, who hadn’t run a draft board for the Bruins in roughly ten years while Wayne Smith and Keith Gretzky had been in charge of the Black and Gold’s scouting operations. “I think we addressed a lot of our needs. It wasn’t sexy, but I think we did well in addressing a lot of the organization’s needs.”  

So with the amateur draft and the expansion draft both in the rearview mirror, the Bruins must move on in the roster-building process while still facing a pair of big needs in top-6 left wing and top-4 left side defenseman. They may be able to nail down one of those needs by swinging a trade with their list of available assets including Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes, Jakub Zboril, Adam McQuaid and next year’s first-round pick.

A deal that would send a Spooner-led package elsewhere might be enough to land the big, skilled, young winger that the Bruins are currently in the market for, and provide top-6 insurance in case DeBrusk, Danton Heinen or Anders Bjork all aren’t quite ready for full-time duty skating, passing and finishing off plays with David Krejci.

It might be that the Bruins have to begin thinking about free agency as a viable place if they want to land a solid, top-4 D-man for the next handful of years to pair with Charlie McAvoy. Karl Alzner headlines a list of players that would be a good fit for the Black and Gold, but they would absolutely have to overpay for a 28-year-old UFA that’s averaged 20:13 of ice time per game over the course of his 591 career games with the Washington Capitals. More affordable would be a young, free agent defenseman like Dmitry Kulikov, who is still extremely young as he comes off a rough year with the Buffalo Sabres after getting traded there from Florida. Or other potentially available left-shot free agent defenseman like Brendan Smith or Ron Hainsey could be stop-gap answers for the Bruins until the next crop of D-men in Jakob Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon and Vaakenainen, and others, are ready to step up just like Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy did last season.

The bottom line is that the Bruins did perfectly fine over draft weekend with no true idea until a few years have passed for these teenage prospects, but they need to aim higher than “perfectly fine” with their offseason if they want to be any better at the NHL level next season. A big move or two will be needed from the Bruins front office if the B’s are going to make the jump that everybody wants to see from them over the next couple of seasons. 

Bruins get a needed boost from young players in win over Sharks

cp-spark-bruins-celebrate-111917x.jpg

Bruins get a needed boost from young players in win over Sharks

Here’s what we learned from the Bruins' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the SAP Center on Saturday night, which gave Boston four of a possible six points in its California road swing.
 
1) The kids stepped up at a great time for the Bruins. Boston needed some young players to step up and fill in for the injured veterans up front, and they got it on Saturday night. Jake DeBrusk was the main playmaker on both goals in the first period, and the Bruins got goals from rookies DeBrusk, Peter Cehlarik and Danton Heinen. It was Cehlarik’s first NHL goal and the 10th point of the season for Heinen, who continues to show signs that he is going to be a productive, reliable winger  even though he didn’t start the season at the NHL level. DeBrusk finished with a goal and an assist and twice used his speed and aggressiveness taking the puck to the net to create scoring chances: On the first goal it was Cehlarik who finished the loose puck after DeBrusk’s net drive created a rebound, and on the second it was DeBrusk simply beating reigning Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns to a race for the puck and then snapping it up and over San Jose backup goalie Aaron Dell. Cehlarik became the sixth Bruins rookie to score the first goal of his NHL career with Boston this season, and it all shows tangible results of the youth movement they were fully embracing this season. There will be peaks and valleys with so many young players in the lineup, but Saturday night turned out to be one of those high-water marks.

2)  At their healthiest, the Bruins can be a fast-skating, skilled team that will be equal parts offense and defense in a hard-working style that features pace and creativity in the offensive zone. The Bruins aren't healthy right now, obviously, and aren’t going to find success that way as attested by the fact that they hadn’t won two games in a row this season until Saturday night in San Jose. With a number of players already out of the lineup, Torey Krug now injured as well and Tuukka Rask taking an extended rest in favor of a red-hot Anton Khudobin, the Bruins are actually playing a very different brand of hockey right now. With Rask not playing -- and not allowing the types of bad or soft goals he's given up so far this year -- they can play a little more conservatively and try to make a two- or three-goal output in a game actually stick as the game-winning margin. Just check the box score,  as the Bruins blocked a whopping 30 shots and conversely the Sharks blocked just 12. Zdeno Chara, Kevan Miller and Robbie O’Gara all had blocked shots in the final few minutes, and Brandon Carlo stepped in front of a wide-open chance for Burns in the third period off a clean offensive zone faceoff win for the Sharks. Those are all gritty, tough plays in the D-zone that you don’t always see, and it perhaps comes a little more naturally when the Bruins are making the clear choice to feature their defense and goaltending right now. It may not be sustainable once Anton Khudobin inevitably cools off a little bit, but for now it’s pretty darn effective.


 
3)  After watching him stop 36 of 37 shots for the win on Saturday night, the Bruins need to see this thing through with Khudobin until he loses a game. Khudobin is 5-0-2 with this season, with a .949 save percentage in three appearances in November. He's playing the best he's played in the last couple of years. Right now Khudobin is actually leading the NHL with a .935 save percentage for the season, and that really contrasts to Rask's .897 save percentage. Certainly part of it is about the Bruins selling out defensively in front of him and blocking 30 shots in the win while knowing they didn’t have to play again until Wednesday night. But it’s also about the Bruins backup goaltender playing himself into a position where the B’s should ride him until he cools down a little bit, and give Rask some more time to figure out what is slowing him down between the pipes right now.
 
PLUS
-- DeBrusk made a couple of big plays in the first period that led to goals for the Bruins, and he finished with a goal, two points, a plus-2 and a team-high four shots on net in 15:49 of ice time. He has a goal and three points in three games since being a healthy scratch last weekend against Toronto.
 
--Khudobin made 16 saves in the first period when the Bruins were outshot 17-5 and it certainly seemed like they were going to get run out of the building. Instead Khudobin stood tall.
 
-- Heinen finished with two goals and three points on the three-game trip and iced the game for the Bruins with a backdoor strike in the third period after Kevan Miller had dashed up the right side of the ice to create the chance. Heinen is pushing up near the Bruins team leaders in some offensive categories and looks like he belongs in the NHL this season.
 
MINUS
-- Burns was burnt on each of the Bruins' two first-period goals, he actually missed the net with 12 of his 16 shot attempts, and he had seven giveaways in a pretty sloppy game managing the puck. Burns hasn’t had a great season to date, and Saturday night was a good example of things not going well for him this year.
 
-- Paul Postma finished with just eight minutes of ice time in the win, and was part of the poor defensive coverage on the Sharks goal by Joonas Donskoi in the first period that ended up getting overturned on video review. Postma didn’t show much else after that only playing a handful of minutes over the remainder of the game, and based on his early performance looks like he’s only going to be a seventh defensemen in Boston.
 
-- Here’s a hearty boo to the 10:30 pm West Coast starts on Saturday night that only the diehards, or those getting paid, are going to closely watch on the weekend leading up to Thanksgiving. Congrats to you if you were one of the lucky ones that decided to stay up and watch a game that didn’t end until after 1 a.m. in the East.  

Morning Skate: Payroll mess at the heart of Bruins' problems

cp-morning-skate.jpg

Morning Skate: Payroll mess at the heart of Bruins' problems

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while battening down the hatches for Thanksgiving week.
 
-- When longtime Bruins follower Clark Booth opines about the Black and Gold, I tend to listen. And he's not happy with the Bruins' salary cap situation at this point in time. It should be noted that this was written before they won the last two games. But some of those truths still remain self-evident when it comes to the B’s.

-- Kevin Bieksa will never stop talking about former teammate Rick Rypien, or about the factors that ultimately led to his tragic passing.
 
-- Alex Ovechkin is truly living up to the “Russian Machine Never Breaks” mantra these days, which led to the creation of an entire blog about the Capitals.
 
-- This Saturday Night Live skit with Chance the Rapper playing a clueless hockey reporter was funny, even to people that have been covering the league for 20 years and still struggle to pronounce a name like Brady Skjei.
 
-- The good, the bad and the ugly courtesy of FOH (Friend of Haggs) Mitch Melnick from last night’s Montreal blowout loss to the Maple Leafs that probably could have just been called the ugly, the ugly and the ugly.
 
-- It’s 20 games into the season, and the Buffalo Sabres media are wondering what’s wrong with their team, and star Jack Eichel.
 
-- For something completely different: It sounds like some of the NFL rank-and-file players want to know why Roger Goodell deserves $50 million and a lifetime private plane.