Felger: Bottom's always up with Bruins

Felger: Bottom's always up with Bruins

Peter Chiarelli may be long gone from Causeway Street, but his spirit lives on. 

If someone can explain to me the Bruins' fascination with bottom-of-the-roster veterans with average talent, then I'd love to hear it. I used to think it was the problem of Chiarelli, the B's former general manager. But now I have to wonder if it's just in the water down there. And current GM Don Sweeney is chugging it.

I have no other explanation for the team's decision to sign defenseman Kevan Miller to a four-year (four!) extension worth $10 million yesterday. Miller is a nice role piece. But how that translates to four guaranteed years when he will turn 29 early next season and the Bruins have massive holes throughout their roster is beyond me. 

What's more, the B's already have nearly the identical player in Adam McQuaid, who is roughly the same age, same size, same shot (right), same injury history (poor) and plays the same role (bottom pairing, right side). McQuaid is a little less skilled than Miller, so of course, using Bruins logic, he makes a little more ($2.75 million). But McQuaid also got four years when he re-signed prior to last season.

Certainly, contracts worth $2-3 million annually aren't going to ruin your cap in a vacuum. But start adding them up you see how the Bruins got into trouble in the first place. Combine McQuaid and Miller's hits and you have $5.25 million of valuable space chewed up against the cap. Basically, that's the price of a solid, top-4 defenseman, which the Bruins need ten times more than a depth piece.

Scary. The Bruins currently don't have a No. 1 or a No. 2 defensemen. (Sorry, Bruins writers, Zdeno Chara belongs on a second pairing right now.) Yet they have decided to lock themselves up with a pair of No. 6 guys who basically duplicate each other. Again, why do the B's continue to overpay the bottom of the depth chart when the top is so lousy?

It's one thing for Chiarelli to overcommit to the likes of Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley, Dan Paille, Greg Campbell, Dennis Seidenberg, etc. Those guys at least helped you win a Cup and get to another final. From an emotional standpoint, you can explain those mistakes. But Miller? He's been a part of one of the worst defense corps in the league the last few years. He's been on a team that has failed to make the playoffs two consecutive seasons. How do you fall in love with that guy?

Please don't tell me that Miller would have gotten that contract on the open market. I mean, it's true; he probably would have. But what does that matter? Does that mean it's a good deal? Just because Colorado was willing to pay Carl Soderberg just under $5 million a season, does that mean the B's should have paid the middling centerman that money last year? Of course not. Use your head. Just because someone else gets stupid doesn't mean you have to.

You shudder to think what's coming next. Loui Eriksson is still out there as a pending free agent. Ditto for Torey Krug. On a good team, the former is a third liner and the latter is another third-pairing guy. Neither have been good enough to lift the B's above the playoff line the last two years despite playing prominent roles. Both are about to get overpaid on the market . . . unless the B's step in first and insist on being the team that gets stupid and overcommits first.

Given what we've seen with Miller, how can anyone be confident that the B's will be smart enough to pass? My confidence level on this is somewhere around 0.0.

Which is exactly how much cap space the B's will have left with this approach.

Email Felger at Listen to Felger and Mazz weekdays, 2-6 p.m. on 98.5 FM. The simulcast runs daily on CSN. 

Morning Skate: Claude's Habs 'not a very good team'

File photo

Morning Skate: Claude's Habs 'not a very good team'

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while not really digging these forecasts of more snow.

*You know, if he weren’t making millions and millions of dollars I might actually feel bad for ol' Claude Julien up in Montreal busting out the “We’re not a very good team” soliloquy with the Habs. That team flat out stinks this season and these past few weeks it can’t be fun at all being the head coach of that dumpster fire.

*Darren Dreger says there is no rush for the Toronto Maple Leafs to bring back Auston Matthews before he’s ready to go, and that’s absolutely the case so close to the playoffs.

*Here are five Hart Trophy-caliber players that won’t get a sniff of the voting, but deserve some attention nonetheless. There are no Bruins players on the list if you’re wondering, but some pretty good ones in Johnny Gaudreau and Aleksander Barkov.

*The NHL general managers are weighing potential changes to the goalie-interference interpretation ahead of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

*While it still looks a Swedish defenseman is going to be the No. 1 overall pick this June, there are some other players rocketing up the list.

*For something completely different: The definitive ranking of Girl Scout cookies from best-to-worst that we’ve all been waiting for.

*Song of the Week: Haven’t done one of these in a long, long time, but I like this Calvin Harris/Katy Perry/Pharrell Williams tune that I hadn’t heard until the past couple of days.


Donato looks like impact player after 'dream' debut

Donato looks like impact player after 'dream' debut

BOSTON – It certainly looks like the Bruins have themselves another young impact player.

The only way it could have been more of a dream scenario for Ryan Donato in his NHL debut would have been if the Bruins won the game, but otherwise it was as good as could have been hoped with a goal and three points in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday night at TD Garden.

Donato fired off a one-timer missile from the right face-off dot for his first NHL goal, but also showed both tenacity in front of the net on the power play leading to Riley Nash’s goal, and playmaking in flipping a backhanded saucer pass to David Krejci for the tying goal in the third period. 

The highly skilled Harvard star didn’t end up finishing off the storybook opening with an OT winner, but he did more than enough in his first game to make it a living dream for himself.

“During warm-ups, actually, I was kind of taken away. I mean it kind of felt like a dream and I really didn’t even get that warmed up because I was too focused on everything else, and just kind of the whole situation,” said Donato. “At the end of the day it was an unbelievable experience and it was a blessing tonight.

“I mean, [the NHL] is so much faster than what I’ve ever seen but at the end of the day, it’s something that you can get used to. When you’re playing with great players like that it’s something that will come along fast as well.”

If there were a checklist of qualities that the Bruins wanted to see out of their 21-year-old prospect while jumping from college hockey to the pros, one could check off “high hockey IQ”, “natural goal-scoring shot” and “nose for the net” right off the bat.

Those are the kinds of qualities that could make Donato very effective for the Bruins down the stretch and into the playoffs if the youngster can harness them on a consistent basis. It also caps off a brilliant 2014 NHL draft for the Bruins, helmed by current Edmonton Oilers assistant GM Keith Gretzky, where their first four picks were David Pastrnak, Donato, Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork, a draft class that’s helped set the Black and Gold up for years to come.  

What about the combination of those qualities plus being able to do it in front of friends and family as the hometown kid for his father's old team? That takes a pretty special makeup to do as well.

“He’s on the puck, as advertised, in terms of his compete. [He] wanted to shoot the puck," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "Early he was trying to make some plays and then realized, just play to your strength. [He] did a real good job. I didn’t notice anything away from the puck. I’m sure there’s a few teaching moments once you go back over the game tape and go from there. But, like I said, I liked him a lot. I’m sure Krech [David Krejci] did, as well. They seemed to have some good chemistry.

“This is one game, but some of the guys that come in...You saw that with [Charlie] McAvoy, just played his game. It would be great if he has similar success. Consistency is a big issue for first-year guys, and we all understand that. If he can string it together then we’ll make that comparison, but very impressed by that to be able to come in here [and make an immediate impact]. Especially your hometown, could be some jitters there, might be easier to do it on the road, almost. I’m not sure – to each his own in that area – but there’s a lot of people to, sort of, impress, and it’s a tough game, so good for him to be able to do it right here in his own backyard.”

There was certainly no hint of tentativeness or nerves sapping any part of his game while jumping into a Boston lineup that desperately needed a guy like Donato while beset with injuries. The B’s are down Patrice Bergeron, Jake DeBrusk and now Rick Nash for the time being, and the ability to plug another capable top-six, potentially high-impact option into the lineup just allows the Bruins to keep on running like nobody was missing.

“Ryan [Donato] played a good game. Good for his confidence to get the first one. That is always the hardest, but he’s got to keep playing the way he played [in his first game]. I thought he played well and he made some good plays,” said Krejci. “He easily could have got a couple of more, but that’s a good start for him. For me, just have to go out and try to do your best to help the team.

“He was battling along the walls, and he was making some good plays. Like I said, it was a good game for him. For a first NHL game, you can’t really ask for anything better than he did. So it was a good game and hopefully, he can keep it up.”

The challenge now is twofold for Donato and the Bruins. The first hurdle is for Donato to keep performing and producing with consistency as he gets everything tossed at him in his first NHL go-round. That will be a challenge enough.

There are many that can look like an impact player in the NHL from time to time, but few that can pull it off nightly as the speed and physicality take a toll over the course of a long season.

The second difficulty, honestly, will be finding enough room in the Bruins lineup for all these players of different shapes, sizes and talents once they're all healthy and potentially start rolling once they bust into the postseason. If Donato keeps up something resembling his debut performance on a nightly basis, then the rich just got even richer with a Bruins team already awash in exciting, talented young players up and down their roster.