Bruins

Haggerty: Trumpeting Bruins defense as team's 'strength' might be a tad premature

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Haggerty: Trumpeting Bruins defense as team's 'strength' might be a tad premature

It’s a slow period for hockey right now, so the NHL Network is doing a tremendously solid thing by recapping each of the 31 teams' situations after the expansion, draft and free agency periods altered many rosters.

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This week, the NHL Network turned its TV eyes to the Bruins and pointed to their right-shot heavy stable of defensemen as the clear strength of the team. That perception is quite the 180-degree turn from just a couple of years ago when the B’s were bereft of top-four defensemen on the back end after shipping out Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton.

This was further compounded by No. 1 defenseman Zdeno Chara approaching 40, and, while effective, clearly not the same workhorse he was when the B’s won the Cup six years ago. Even last spring, the overall organizational depth for defensemen was compromised when Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid and Brandon Carlo were all lost to injuries and the B’s couldn’t overcome losing three of their top-four guys against a pretty formidable Ottawa bunch.

Now, it appears people are getting much more excited about the incumbent Bruins group of D-men.

The NHL Network crew referenced Boston’s surplus of right-shot defensemen and surmised the Bruins could even make a move or two before the start of the season, given the never-ending search many NHL GMs have for good right-side D.

That concept isn’t foreign given the longstanding speculation that Carlo could be moved to Colorado for fast-skating, offense-making Matt Duchene. Still, it’s clear the pendulum has swung far to the other side now with the B’s defensive group being trumpeted as “the strength of the team” and speculation there that they sacrifice a loss or two to their ranks.   

“They’re certainly dealing from a position of strength at a position that everybody covets,” said former NHL goaltender and current NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes. “Their drafting overall has been good and their development model [has been solid].”

That’s certainly something Bruins fans will love to hear and any reason for them to be able to thump their chest is a welcomed one. I can almost see the "Wolf of Wall Street"-style celebration on Causeway Street as we speak.  

But that kind of pronouncement also might be getting a little too far out ahead of where the Bruins actually sit. Two or three years from now there’s a clear, easily seen path to where the B’s could be one of the best defensive corps in the NHL. All of the young drafted, developed D-men play into that scenario all the way down to Jakub Zboril, Ryan Lindgren, Jeremy Lauzon and Urho Vaakanainen.

Still, it might be a tad premature to tout Boston’s defense as its biggest roster strength.

After all, Chara is pushing 40 and will be much better-served if the Bruins can treat him more like a No. 3 or No. 4 shutdown defensemen playing just 20 minutes a night. Anybody who watched the playoffs saw Chara wear down quickly under the unavoidable workload against the Senators once Krug, McQuaid and Carlo went down. That will be a situation that continues to worsen if he’s asked to do too much as one of the oldest players in the league.

Then there’s Carlo, 20, and Charlie McAvoy, 19, who will both be expected to play top-four roles this season. Their talent is obvious and McAvoy, in particular, has all of the goods to be a dominant No. 1 defenseman within the next couple of seasons. Those two should lock up the right side of Boston’s defensemen depth chart for the next 10 years if everything goes according to plan.  

But there are going to be ups and downs with young players thrust into top-four roles with that kind of inexperience. Last season pointed to that kind of inconsistency for Carlo throughout his rookie year. To expect something dissimilar from McAvoy this season is unrealistic and simply just a part of the D-man apprenticeship program in the NHL.  

It will be a couple more seasons before Carlo or McAvoy are steady, consistent NHL veterans capable of shouldering a heavy workload without the occasional novice hiccup.

The Bruins also weren’t able to lock down a left-shot defenseman for their top-four in the opening of NHL free agency, so it looks like either Torey Krug or Kevan Miller is going to start the season partnered up with McAvoy. Clearly, Krug has been excellent for the Bruins while willing himself from undrafted find into an undersized top-four defenseman. Last season, he topped 50 points for the first time in his career.

Kevan Miller was good enough last season for the Bruins to protect him over Colin Miller in the Vegas expansion draft and he certainly brings value as a big, strong, hard-hitting defenseman who is better offensively than you think. But he’ll be asked to play on his left “off” side if he plays top-four minutes as a veteran on-ice tutor of sorts for McAvoy, which will take Miller a bit out of his comfort zone.

Krug and Miller have their strengths and weaknesses as possible top-four solutions and the bottom line is that the Bruins could do better in finding a partner for McAvoy. In an ideal world for the B’s, Krug and Miller would be your bottom pairing where the matchups could hide some of their limitations while maximizing their strengths.

That leaves Adam McQuaid and Paul Postma as the two remaining defensemen on the Bruins' NHL depth chart. They're players who'll give you everything they’ve got with good size and limited offensive ability. If we’re being honest, though, the Bruins would be best served if one of these two was the spare No. 7 defenseman and the other replaced by a better left-shot player that could log top-four minutes.

So, has the Bruins defensemen group vaulted ahead of the Patrice Bergeron/Brad Marchand combo as the clear strength of the team? No, they have not at this point. The defense is one player short and probably at least two years of development shy of being able to truly be the strength of the B's once they're likely again to be in the Stanley Cup contender conversation. That’s why the Bruins shouldn’t be dealing any of their young D-men and instead would be best served simply watching things develop naturally the next couple of years while building the right way.
 

Morning Skate: Predators kicking it into gear

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Morning Skate: Predators kicking it into gear

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while anticpating the turkey leftovers, ready for the taking.
 
-- NHL referee Wes McCauley is at it again, this time going with a fun no-goal call after having some trouble with his microphone.
 
-- After getting humbled on Opening Night by the Bruins, the Nashville Predators are starting to get on a roll.

-- NBC Pro Hockey Talk has Kyle Turris excelling for the Predators, and Matt Duchene very much still stuck in neutral for the Ottawa Senators.

-- NHL stars go through their favorite traditions, and what they enjoy is a game that’s full of routine, superstition and tradition.
  
-- FOH (Friend of Haggs) Ray Ferraro says “it looks rotten” with the Edmonton Oilers as they continue to struggle out of the starting gate.
 
-- Larry Brooks goes through an all-time ranking of the general managers for the New York Rangers, and it’s an illustrious list.

-- The Vegas Golden Knights could make the playoffs in their very first season, and are absolutely far ahead of expectations for a new expansion team.
 
-- For something completely different: Wild turkeys are making a major comeback in Massachusetts after being all but extinct here.
 

Even in their struggles, Bruins have reason(s) to be thankful

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Even in their struggles, Bruins have reason(s) to be thankful

Thanksgiving in the United States has become an important holiday in NHL circles because it provides a regular-season marker that allows teams to gauge their playoff viability. Roughly 75 percent of teams in a playoff spot at Turkey Day end up qualifying for the postseason, and teams within a handful of points of a playoff spot retain a pretty decent chance of pushing their way in. 

But Thanksgiving is also a great time for teams like the Bruins to also give thanks, just like everybody else, while they’re passing the turkey, the stuffing and the mashed potatoes.

Given that it’s the time of being thankful ahead of the holiday season, here is this humble hockey writer’s annual list of things that each member of the Bruins has to be thankful for as they sit down to enjoy a tryptophan-induced nap:
 
David Pastrnak – The 21-year-old is still thankful for the big bucks he signed for this fall . . . $40 million, to be exact. That should keep him in $8 sushi meals at the mall food court for as long as he wants them.
 
Brad Marchand –Marchand is thankful he finally got bumped up to the top power-play unit over the last couple of seasons, after Claude Julien really dragged his feet putting him there. Eleven power-play goals and 29 power-play points in his last 94 games certainly tell the story.
 
Patrice Bergeron – Bergeron is happy and thankful that he’s regained his health after missing the start this season, and that he’s been able to adequately handle the 21:01 of ice time he’s averaging per game.
 
Torey Krug – Krug is thankful he can again eat a nice steak dinner after being forced to have his food come out of a blender for months after fracturing his jaw during the preseason. Of course, that goes for a nice turkey dinner on Thanksgiving as well.
 
Danton Heinen – The 22-year-old is thankful for second chances after he whiffed during an eight-game audition last season in his first year of pro hockey. He’s making up for it by cementing a role with the Bruins this season now that he’s stronger, faster and a little more confident with the puck.
 
Charlie McAvoy – The 19-year-old defenseman is thankful he decided to leave BU after his sophomore season, making the very correct deduction that he was way more than ready for the NHL. If he plays his cards right, he may be thankful at the end of the season for a Calder Trophy.
 
Anders Bjork – The rookie is thankful that the B’s will be playing the Chicago Blackhawks in the Winter Classic at his alma mater, Notre Dame, next season. He may get to live out a lifelong dream of playing a hockey game on that iconic football field.
 
Jake DeBrusk – The rookie left winger is thankful that he got to score his first NHL goal in front of his family and his teary-eyed dad, Louie, during a pretty cool opening-night win over the Nashville Predators.
 
Tim Schaller – The New Hampshire native is thankful to be playing for his hometown hockey team, of course, but he’s more than just a local boy made good. Tim Schaller has been a positive factor for the bottom-6 with his size, speed and intermittent offense.
 
Zdeno Chara – The captain is thankful that both he and his employer agree that the 40-year-old D-man should continue playing for the Bruins beyond this season. Now it’s just a matter of agreeing on a contract at some point.
 
David Krejci – The playmaking center is thankful his cranky back has loosened up enough for him to get back in the lineup. Now the Bruins and their fans would be thankful if the points would start to follow now that he’s healthy enough to play.
 
Riley Nash – The forward is thankful that the B's thought enough of him to protect him in the expansion draft last summer, a show of commitment to a versatile, smart player who does a lot of little things well.
 
Sean Kuraly – The young center is thankful that he hasn’t yet hurt himself taking the jumping, flying and leaping goal celebrations that he’s quickly becoming known for.
 
Kevan Miller – The defenseman is thankful he’s back playing his natural right side for the most part after being pushed into left-side duty for much of the first couple of months this season.
 
Brandon Carlo – The second-year defenseman is thankful to still be on the Bruins, and not used as possible trade collateral in a possible Matt Duchene deal that was discussed quite a bit last year and through the summer.
 
Jordan Szwarz – The 26-year-old forward is thankful for another NHL opportunity in Boston after he’d gone a couple of years without a sniff during his time in the Arizona Coyotes organization after some early games with them.
 
Frank Vatrano – The Bruins forward and East Longmeadow native should frankly be happy that he’s still in the NHL given the training camp and early season he had with the Bruins. He’s scored a couple of goals and played well lately, so he has to hope that he’s pushed through the bad times.
 
Noel Acciari – The Providence College alum is happy to be healthy again after missing a month with a broken finger, and he’s proven that by going right back to the heavy hitting, shot-blocking tough kid that he’s always been.
 
Ryan Spooner – The speedy playmaker is thankful to be over his torn groin. He needs a strong season in order to once, and for all, show exactly what he could be to the Bruins, or some other team, at the NHL level.
 
Adam McQuaid – The veteran defenseman is thankful that he wasn’t selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft last summer, and instead continues to be a strong, robust presence in the D-zone when healthy.
 
David Backes – The 33-year-old forward is thankful to be back skating again after a couple of painful  bouts with diverticulitis that left him in surgery with 10 inches of his colon being removed. I'm still amazed that he returned to practice as quickly as he did, but he is a hockey player after all.
 
Paul Postma – The  D-man is thankful to be getting a second chance with another organization after spending his entire career with the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets.
 
Matt Beleskey – The winger is thankful that he’s getting a chance to bounce back from last year’s down season, but so far the zero points and minus-7 rating in 13 games leave lots of room for improvement.
 
Tuukka Rask – The No. 1 goaltender is thankful for all the rest he’s getting in the first half of the season, which should presumably make him healthy, fresh and strong down the stretch this season. That is, if he can actually get back in touch with a game that sees him with a turkey-like .897 save percentage right now.  
 
Anton Khudobin – The backup netminder is thankful he’s been given a chance to run with things this season as he’s already twice had a chance to start three games in a row after struggling to gain regular playing time last season.
 
Bruce Cassidy – The coach is thankful for another shot behind an NHL bench 13 years after the first one, and he’s making the most of it with a rag-tag group beset by injuries and youth right now.
 
Don Sweeney – The general manager is thankful the team is still within a handful of points of a playoff spot after everything that went wrong in the first couple of months.
 
Cam Neely – The tean president is thankful for the overwhelming talent within their youth movement and the strong, loyal fan base that backs this team no matter what. But it could be a bit of a rough ride ahead, as the B's rank fourth among the big four Boston sports teams, given how good, deep and close to championship-caliber the others are right now. 

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