Haggerty: Bruins fall just short in the Jimmy Vesey Derby

Haggerty: Bruins fall just short in the Jimmy Vesey Derby

The Bruins were one of the teams still standing at the very end for Jimmy Vesey’s in-demand services this week, but they fell short in the end because of things that were out of their control.

By all accounts, the Black and Gold put together a very convincing sales pitch for the 23-year-old Harvard captain and Hobey Baker Award winner from North Reading, Mass., when they met with him on Wednesday at their new Warrior Arena practice complex in Brighton.

They showed off all the new bells and whistles, Claude Julien virtually guaranteed Vesey a top-six spot skating at his left wing position alongside David Krejci. Don Sweeney, Cam Neely and Co. did a good job of working the hometown-kid-playing-for-the-hometown-team angle. But none of that registered strongly enough to close the deal with Vesey, who instead chose to play alongside Kevin Hayes, instead of Jimmy Hayes, while choosing to sign with the New York Rangers.

According to a source with knowledge of the situation, it came down to the New Jersey Devils, Bruins and Rangers when Vesey was making his final decision with his agents on Friday. The friendship between Hayes and Vesey played a big part in the recruiting process and the BU connection between Vesey’s agent, Peter Fish, and Rangers director of player development Chris Drury played a pivotal role in New York closing the deal.

So what went wrong with Boston?

The informed speculation has long been that Vesey, and those around him, were uncomfortable with the notion of him playing for his hometown Bruins after watching his buddy Jimmy Hayes get lambasted by the Boston sports media while struggling last season. 

The problem wasn’t so much the criticism that will come along with the hype that Vesey arrived with should he struggle in the NHL, but that his close friends and family would also be subjected to the harsh critiques if he played in Boston. That was something Hayes struggled with in his first season for the Black and Gold while clearly not playing up to his potential in a sometimes sluggish campaign.

Local boys struggling with the B’s is something that’s happened more than once in the recent past for the Bruins. Fellow Massachusetts hockey products Chris Bourque and Hal Gill faced similar harsh treatment when they pulled on the Black and Gold sweater in their pro careers. Avoiding the Bruins allows Vesey to skip those potential distractions and places him in a position where he can simply concentrate on carving out an NHL niche for himself.

According to sources, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Torey Krug and Adam McQuaid were all part of the meeting with Vesey this week. It’s a pretty telling detail that Hayes, who is friendly with Vesey, was not a part of the Bruins player contingent recruiting the sought-after NCAA player.

Instead, Vesey will go to the Rangers, where he has a close friend on the roster in Kevin Hayes and New England people supporting him in the organization from GM Jeff Gorton to Drury to player personnel director Steve Greeley. While the Blueshirts aren’t the Stanley Cup contenders they were a couple of years ago, they are still a likely playoff team with Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh. 

Interestingly, it feels like Vesey might not even be a top-six left winger right off the bat for the Blueshirts with Chris Kreider and Nashon the roster. New York’s cap situation could be dicey in a couple of years when Vesey is looking for a bigger second contract.

But he also won’t be looked at as “a savior” in his own words, something that might have been the case in Boston for a team that has collapsed and missed the playoffs in the past two seasons.

"They don't expect me to come in and be a savior," said Vesey in a Friday night conference call. "I think I'm just a piece they want to add, and hopefully I can help the New York Rangers win hockey games.

"The thing that jumped out at me was that they came to really want me. It seemed that they really needed to have me in their lineup and it seemed that they believe in me. That was something that I was looking for."

Where does this leave the Bruins?

Unfortunately Vesey-to-New York once again illustrates a situation where Sweeney couldn’t close the deal as GM. The Bruins once again lost out on a top talent on an entry-level contract coming right out of their own backyard. 

Sweeney did a solid job presenting the sales pitch to Vesey and his agents this week, but as the GM is quick to always admit, the NHL “is a results-oriented business.” The Bruins lost out on Vesey and still have a huge hole in their defensemen corps where Sweeney failed to acquire a needed top-four, puck-moving type for a roster that’s as flawed as it has been the past two seasons.  

It also leaves a hole on Krejci’s left wing where they hoped to have Vesey after losing Loui Eriksson in free agency to the Vancouver Canucks. A Vesey signing would have allowed the Bruins to slot the hardnosed Matt Beleskey into the third line, where he’s much better suited after a solid first season for the Bruins. 

It also would have allowed the B’s to avoid pushing young players Frank Vatrano and Danton Heinen into a top-six role next season. With Vesey taking his hockey talents to Broadway, it looks like one of those two things might have to happen while the Bruins are again explaining why they came up short for one of their desired goals. 

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

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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

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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.