Bruins

Haggerty: Right fit for Backes one of camp's lingering mysteries

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Haggerty: Right fit for Backes one of camp's lingering mysteries

BRIGHTON, Mass – With the start of Providence Bruins camp bearing down on Monday, the Boston Bruins know their NHL training camp numbers will be thinning out very shortly. That won’t change some pretty established forward combinations that head coach Bruce Cassidy has been working with throughout camp thus far.

Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron have skated together consistently as they obviously should as one of the league’s most lethal duos, and they’ve been teamed with rookie Anders Bjork at right wing pretty consistently through camp. David Krejci and David Pastrnak have also been linked together for every practice, game and drill since the 21-year-old Pastrnak signed his new six-year contract, and it’s been rookie Jake DeBrusk with them for most of camp.
Matt Beleskey finished the night in Detroit with Krejci and Pastrnak, and one begins to wonder if that’s where the established, 28-year-old Beleskey finds himself when the regular season begins.

That may or may not change after the young left winger was taken off their line in Saturday night’s preseason debacle in Detroit, but the point stands that Krejci and Pastrnak are expected to be on the same line to start the season. The same would seem to be the case with Riley Nash and Noel Acciari as fourth liners that really established themselves toward the end of last season, and have had Tim Schaller and Jesse Gabrielle cycle through as candidates.

That leaves the Bruins third line where the choices aren’t quite as easy for Cassidy, and where there are several different options for the Bruins coaching staff. Ryan Spooner and David Backes played together an ample amount of time last season, and would seem to be a good combo where their very different strengths can complement each other. Sean Kuraly and Backes would certainly give the Bruins a big, bruising, North/South third line dimension, and showed how effective they could be in the first round of the playoffs against the Ottawa Senators.

Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson got some early looks with Backes as well, but it seems a foregone conclusion he'll start in the AHL after getting dinged up earlier this week in preseason action. Backes hasn’t been shy about his preference to see where this combo could take them given his preference for a bit of old school smash-mouth hockey.

“It depends on usage, and that conversation has yet to be had. Are we going to be a checking line that’s going to get the matchup against the other team’s top line, or if we’re going to roll three lines that can responsibly play against any line then the makeup of [the line] changes a little bit,” said Backes. “I think another big body to get pucks in and have that grind really wearing things down, and kind of setting things up for the line after us, is first and foremost on my mind.

“I think there are certainly plays to be made on entrances, but there’s a lot of times when there’s not. But starting up that grind game that’s there at times, the more often it’s there the better we are. It can be overwhelming for teams to have to be in their end for minutes on end, and get a fresh line change, while you’re still in the offensive zone. That’s how goals are created that aren’t made on the rush. In the second half of the game [against the Red Wings] with JFK not feeling so hot, Sean Kuraly and myself felt pretty good with his speed, his ability and just the unselfish type of “let’s go in here and grind” to make space for the other guys. I don’t know how it all sorts out or if they’ve A, B, C and D type of choices, but there’s still a great deal of camp. So hopefully that all gets sorted out, so we’re able to build chemistry with whoever it is.”

There are other pieces to be worked in like Frank Vatrano or possibly Beleskey if both of Boston’s rookie wingers stick on the NHL roster, but it would seem that the Bruins are facing a major philosophical decision with their third line after bringing Spooner back into the fold. Do they go big, strong and “crash and bang” with Kuraly and Backes, or do the Bruins try to amp up Backes’ offensive production as trigger man with Ryan Spooner setting him as a speedy, skilled playmaker?

“[Kuraly and Backes] enjoy playing together, and in the playoffs they had some level of success,” said Cassidy of Backes, who finished with an underwhelming 17 goals and 38 points in his first season with the Bruins. “At some point we have to get a look at that. Noel was in that mix. Do we want to add skill on the left side if Kuraly is in to complement them, or do we want kind of three North/South guys? Those are the things that training camp is going to answer. It’s difficult because if you’re building a heavier line, and you’ve also got a Ryan Spooner who is more of a skill guy with Vatrano speed. Now the questions will come what’s your third line? We’re going to do whatever is best to suit the team, and we’ll number the lines as we see fit afterward.

“But I think it’s important that Backes has the right type of chemistry player [on his line]. We’ve addressed the top two with Krejci and [Pastrnak] and Bergie and Marchand, so now we’ve got to find the proper fit for Backes for him to be an effective player for us. He’s a very good hockey player and we’ve got to make sure he plays with people that complement his game too.”

So what would this humble hockey writer do if he were making the hockey decisions?

Probably start Spooner with Backes and Vatrano on the third line to start the season given Spooner’s considerable talent on the power play, and what’s been a bit more determined effort to battle for one-on-one pucks in the preseason. There’s no harm in potentially keeping Kuraly as the 13th forward on the NHL roster, and then going to him if A) Spooner falls back into previous bad habits or B) the B’s coaching staff determines they need more of a punishing fore-check presence as they did mid-streak against the Sens in the playoffs.

It may not be perfect and the surplus of third line bodies may result in an early season trade given the need around the NHL for talented bottom-six centers, but the Bruins need to do whatever is necessary to consistently squeeze more production and quality shifts out of that group, and particularly out of Backes, this season. 

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Morning Skate: Devante Smith-Pelly speaks out on racist taunts

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Morning Skate: Devante Smith-Pelly speaks out on racist taunts

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while Canada seems to be celebrating a number of different holidays including “Family Day” in Alberta.  

 

*Devante Smith-Pelly spoke out on Sunday a day after being the target of ignorant, ugly chants at the Capitals/Blackhawks game while he served out a penalty in the visiting penalty box. As I said over the weekend, I hope the Blackhawks fans that were chanting at him don’t ever come back to watch an NHL game of any kind. Hockey doesn’t want their hate and ignorance. The fact it happened during Black History month and the month where the NHL really pushes their “Hockey is For Everyone” mantra just makes it even more deplorable. 

 

*Interesting take here on why things were so rough between Team USA and Team Russia in their Olympic matchup last weekend. The thinking is that it’s Russia’s attempts to establish dominance and reignite a rivalry that was highest during the Cold War. It’s also partly about Team USA sending an inferior team to play the Russians this time around as well. If the USA was allowed to bring their best, this wouldn’t be happening.  

 

*St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong is not in the mood for pricey rental players that would be bolting as soon as free agency hits. 

 

*An aging Henrik Lundqvist is at the heart of a New York Rangers team that really isn’t going anywhere right now. 

 

*It sounds like the losing is beginning to get to Henrik Zetterberg out in Detroit, who is in the middle of a long season to nowhere with the Red Wings. 

 

*Fantasy hockey owners are beginning to bail out on Milan Lucic, which can’t be a good sign for the struggling Edmonton Oiler. 

 

*For something completely different: There are a whole lot of Easter eggs in the new Black Panther movie. 

 

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Vanek? McDonagh? Questions abound as trade deadline approaches

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Vanek? McDonagh? Questions abound as trade deadline approaches

With the NHL trade deadline a week away there are plenty of questions surrounding the Bruins,  who could be a prime mover and shaker among the 31 NHL teams.

Are they going to mortgage part of their future for 28-year-old Ryan McDonagh in a move that could fortify their back end? Will they finally succumb and trade for Patrick Maroon or Thomas Vanek after both players have spent years tormenting them? Is it incumbent on general manager Don Sweeney to make moves as if the Bruins are Stanley Cup contenders despite their youth and inexperience at a number of key spots on this season’s roster?

All these and more will be answered in a brand, spanking new Hagg Bag mailbag produced just in time for all of the crazy trade deadline stuff that will be addressed, critiqued and summarily dispatched if there is no evidence supporting it. As always, these are real e-mailed questions from real fans to my jhaggerty@nbcuni.com e-mail account, tweets to my Twitter account using the hash tag #HaggBag, and messages to my CSN Facebook page. Now, on to the bag:
 
Joe......your take on Carlo...and what you think other teams see him as...a 3 or 4??
--Dean Goodman (@bostonbees)

 
My take on Brandon Carlo is that he’s a 21-year-old defenseman who's been a top-4 D-man since coming into the league at age 20 and still has room to grow at both ends of the ice. He can certainly get a little more aggressive in spots on offense, using his accurate, hard shot from the point a little more and taking advantage of the fact that he’s a very good skater for a guy who's 6-foot-5. I think his pairing with Torey Krug puts him in a place where he has to consistently choose defense over offense because Krug is the one usually stepping up and playing aggressively with the pinches and playing in the offense zone. So we haven’t seen much in the way of offensive progression from Carlo this season.

But at the other end of the ice, Carlo has the size and strength to a top-flight shutdown defenseman. I think for him it comes down to being a little more mean in the defensive zone a little more consistently, and playing more to his size and strength than he sometimes does. Some of that is going to come with experience as he gets older, stronger and more confident in what he can and can’t do on the ice, but he needs to be a D-man who's hard to play against if he wants to continue his development as a top-4 guy. It was great to see him step up and fight Darren Archibald last weekend after Archibald threw a heavy hit on David Pastrnak, and that’s something Carlo is also going to need to do from time-to-time based on his role and his size/strength.

At 21, Carlo is just scratching the surface of how effective he’s going to be. We know he’s never going to be Erik Karlsson or Drew Doughty, of course, but there aren’t that many 6-foot-5 defenseman as mobile as Carlo either. Whether teams see him as a 3 or a 4, he still holds plenty of value as a guy that can play in the league for the next 10 plus years.
 
Do you think the Bruins should kick the tires on Vanek at the trade deadline and if so what is the most you think the Bruins should give up to get him?
--Nicholas Tate (@boredbostonian)
 

 Yes, I think they should and I think they will. He’s not ideal because he can disappear for stretches in the compete department, and clearly he’s slowed down at age 34. But Vanek can still put the puck in the net, is a big body that will battle around the front on occasion and is on pace for 22 goals and 56 points for the Canucks. He could definitely help the Bruins, and would cost a draft pick and maybe a mid-level prospect. I don’t even think the Canucks would be able to get a first-rounder in exchange for him, so you’re talking secondary assets to land a player who could help really help fill a need for a big-bodied, experienced winger who can put the puck in the net. I don’t think Vanek is the top guy on their shopping list, but maybe he should be given how he’s tormented the Bruins over the years.  
 
Cannot stand how Bruins writers and dumb fans talk about Loui Eriksson like he actual sucks. If you blame Loui for the Bruins troubles 3 years ago you are beyond reproach as a hockey fan. Guy gets bashed because he couldn’t replace Seguin (but he actually did). Not his fault.
--Nick Salerno (@nick_sal1)
 

You should go talk to the people in Vancouver, where Eriksson was given a six-year deal for $6 million per. He finished with 11 goals and 24 points along with a minus-9 rating last season, and is on pace for 15 goals and 33 points along with being a minus player again this year. I’m sure they’d have some fairly pointed things to say about his game, like what a colossal disappointment he’s been for them.
My point is always the same with Eriksson: He coasted a lot during his first two seasons with the Bruins, and then came to play hard with 30 goals and 63 points when his contract was up. Now he’s gone right back into his passive, floating game with a rich, long-term contract in his back pocket. He’s not a winning player and only works hard when the mood strikes him. Those kinds of guys do kind of suck in my book, but far be it for me to step in the way of your clear love and admiration for a player that “replaced Tyler Seguin” in your opinion. Wow, I can’t even type that with a straight face.
 
Pastrnak is just 5 and 6 months older then DeBrusk and Carlo; let that sink in. Wow
--Mind Within (@Northern)

 
Yup. That David Pastrnak is something special, and you could see it the very first day he showed up for Bruins development camp. That whole 2014 Bruins draft class is something special with Pastrnak, Ryan Donato, Anders Bjork and Danton Heinen selected with the first four picks. He still has moments where his puck management and his compete level wane a little bit, but he’s become a player you can bank on for 30 goals and 75 points at 21 years old. There just aren’t a lot of players like that anywhere.
 
Hey Joe. The Buins need a good young: left shot D and 2nd line RW, and have for about 3 years.  The Left D is harder to find and get than the RW.  An old veteran RW (Vanek) rental is a waste of time and resources.  Bruins should be looking to trade Krug, Vatrano and Spooner. They could also add a draft pick and/or prospect, such as O'Gara Zboril depending upon the package and the return.When Minnesota is out of it what would they want for C. Coyle or J. Brodin ? 
 
Thanks,
Mike

 
 It’s a week until the deadline and the Wild are still in a playoff spot, so I don’t see them being sellers. And Jonas Brodin is hurt now as well, so no homecoming for Charlie Coyle this time around. I disagree with you about the right wing as well. I think you could do very well with an older, experienced winger at the deadline to play alongside David Krejci. The Bruins have enough youth and speed on the wings already. They need a bigger, older player with some experience and ability putting the puck in the net.  
 
And now we’ve reached the portion of the Hagg Bag mailbag where fans just throw out random trade scenarios hoping to throw something against the wall that sticks:
 
Belesky Bjork Grzelcyk and first round pick for Ekman Larrson.  
--Allan Gregory (@AllanGregory7)
 
Carlo, Krug, Kuraly, and Vatrano for Karlsson and Dzingel ?
--Tom Walsh (@tjw0218)

 
I don’t think the Bruins are really very interested in Oliver Ekman-Larsson, as they’re looking for more of a rugged, frontline top-4 D-man than a slick offensive guy. I think Nik Hjalmarsson would be the guy they’d be looking at more closely from the Arizona Coyotes. That Karlsson trade proposal? Dude, the Senators just preemptively fired you from possible employment with them for even writing that one down. Why on Earth would Ottawa give up a multiple Norris Trophy winner for guys like Sean Kuraly and Frank Vatrano?  
 
As I said. You’re looking at a Stanley cup run and this team can’t beat the bigger western teams. Too many mistakes and goalie who can’t do it on his own. We are fun to watch but we r not a Stanley Cup contender.
--Len Hess (@bosam53)

 
I’d say this is mostly accurate, actually. I think they’re a year or two away from a legitimate Cup run, but I also think the Bruins have put themselves in a position this season where they deserve to be upgraded at the trade deadline. But I wouldn’t sell out any anything of significant value just to make a run this season because, to me, it feels like they may be one of those teams that comes up short in the postseason. I’m also going to need to see Tuukka Rask carry this team to a victorious Stanley Cup run before I will believe he can do it.
 
Hi Joe – loving your stuff and want to get your opinion. With the Trade Deadline approaching AND the brutal schedule starting Feb. 24 I think the key for playoff success and the best seeding possible is…health and rest for the team so they are all ready to go and are 100% on April 9. On Feb. 25 the B’s will have played 58 games in 142 days (a game every 2.5 days) and then will play 24 games in 46 days (a game every 1.9 days) and finish with 5 games in 8 days – a BIG difference. I want your thoughts – should management give a similar number of days per game for the team that they have had to date and scratch everyone for a few games to avoid burnout and injuries?? If the 18 core players sat 3-4 games that would be roughly 60 man games needed to be filled in.  This would be a great opportunity to give a great dress rehearsal for many of the key P-Bruins and current “scratches” and could be one more “Trade Deadline” move. Can they do this and should they do this and hold to this plan??
 --Phil Bunsick

 
They probably could do some of this, and I certainly think they will be practicing very sparingly in the stretch they’ve officially entered start this past weekend. But I don’t see them just scratching guys in terms of rest or maintenance once the schedule gets busy. You could make the argument that it will keep them fresher amid a grueling finale where they will play 27 games in 52 days, but I’m not sure that would keep them healthy as well. You play 16 games in a month’s time as they do in March, and players are going to get hurt whether they’re rested for a random day here or there. There’s also the difficulty of telling competitive, proud guys like Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron to sit down for three or four games down the stretch when they’re not hurt. I just don’t see it happening even though the end of the season is clearly going to take a chunk out of the Bruins.   
 
Bruins need to pay whatever it takes to land a Ryan McDonagh type, desperately need it
--Jimbo (@jimbro83)

 
No, they don’t need to pay whatever it takes to get McDonagh. Certainly they could use a player like that for the present and for the future. He would give the Bruins a formidable top-4 group of D-men going into any playoff series, and he would give the B’s a ready-made replacement for Zdeno Chara as a veteran head of the back end if/when the B’s 40-year-old captain finally moves on. He’s pretty much exactly what they’re looking for as a long term partner for Charlie McAvoy.

But would you give up Jake DeBrusk, Brandon Carlo and a first-round pick in exchange for McDonagh, which essentially equates to three first round picks for McDonagh given that Carlo was a high second rounder that’s played in the league since he was 20 years old? I wouldn’t. If the Rangers want to take an Anders Bjork/Brandon Carlo/draft pick package or a Robbie O’Gara/Jake DeBrusk/draft pick trade offer, then I might be tempted.

But I’ll be honest, Jake DeBrusk is a high character kid, he’s a player that’s only going to get better from his current solid level as a 21-year-old rookie and he’s the kind of player that could be a very good Bruin for the next 10 years. I don’t give up on those guys very easily if I’m Don Sweeney, and I would stick to my guns and not offer too much in the way of young players from Boston’s NHL roster in talks for McDonagh.

The bottom line with McDonagh and the Rangers is that they could wait until the draft to deal McDonagh if they don’t get the boatload of stuff they’re looking for. I think the Bruins should be patient with this one. It’s going to be a good test for Sweeney, who really hasn’t had to make a blockbuster-type deal leading up to the deadline in his three years running the team. He needs to make sure he gets this one right, and doesn’t give up too much of what’s making his team special right now. That’s a legit concern with a hockey club that’s showed so much promise to date this season, and has been so fun to watch.
 
You don’t touch this [Ryan McDonagh] deal, not with a ten foot pole! Often injured and just not worth giving up DeBrusk let someone else overpay for him
--Kenny Smith (@orrigan77)

 
And there’s your counterpoint. We’ll leave you on that with a week to go until we get all the answers we’re looking for at the NHL trade deadline. See you in the next bag!

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