Bruins

Bruins shuffling the deck looking for answers up front

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Bruins shuffling the deck looking for answers up front

BRIGHTON, Mass – It would appear that Bruce Cassidy is ready to start shuffling the deck up front after a slow start to the season.

With the Bruins ranking among the league’s worst both offensively and defensively just a handful of games into the season, they are both introducing a few new forwards to the mix while hoping for full health to a couple of other ones. 

First off, the Bruins appear that they might get David Backes back for Thursday night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks after his bout with diverticulitis, supplying some badly needed size, strength and net-front tenacity on the wing. Patrice Bergeron (lower body) might not be too far behind after going through a full practice wearing a no-contact jersey. The return of No. 37 would help in any number of different areas once he’s good to go, and would have a cascade effect on the rest of the forwards.  

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Getting both players back in short order would give the Bruins a toughness around the net that was certainly missing against Malcolm Subban and the Golden Knights, and hasn’t been there consistently this season with No. 37 and No. 42 out of commission.

“[Bergeron] is progressing. In the past we’ve ruled him out ahead of time, but we’re not ruling him out for [Thursday vs. the Canucks]. Backes looks closer to being ready to play,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Some of the games that have gotten away from us, those guys are glue guys that really add that element to us to keep us on the rails without the game getting away. Some nights you just need their offense or some hard defending, and you miss their leadership obviously. They’re all good players, but most of them you know they’re bringing that North/South game and a few good shifts here or there could have got us back on track.

“[Bergeron] is underrated in his ability to get to the front of the net especially with Marchand and Pastrnak on his wings. So we miss that part of it: Getting there on time, making plays and finishing off plays. Backes is just a big body there and you certainly miss that part of it. With Vegas the other night that was one of the biggest things we were missing was getting second chances, shooting for second chances, hitting the net and getting those rebound chances against a team that was harder to get inside on.

A few moves on Wednesday might also suggest some on-the-fly changes with some forwards that haven’t been working out with the Black and Gold. Ryan Spooner suffered a lower-body injury on Sunday night against Vegas, and it sounds like it might not be a short-term injury for the center with just one point in his first five games. Matt Beleskey and Frank Vatrano also haven’t produced much in the first couple of weeks of the season, and could be in danger of losing roster spots to Providence call-ups Kenny Agostino and Peter Cehlarik.  

Both players were late cuts from training camp and were showing the blend of size, strength, skill, experience and production that Boston needs more of as they search for answers among their forward group. Beleskey, Spooner and Vatrano have combined for one point, a minus-6 rating and just 12 shots on net in a combined 14 games this season, so clearly that is one of the first spots to look for upgrading the roster from within.

“[A tryout period] is a good way to put it. We talked about that in training camp when we had a long look at guys, but not Cehlarik because he didn’t get a chance to play [because of shoulder surgery]. He obviously piqued our interest last year and did a lot of good things for us,” said Cassidy, who has been in a state of constant flux putting forward lines together due to injury and ineffectiveness. “We just went in a different direction at the trade deadline, but we brought him up to give him a look. We have a decision tomorrow and I’m not going to say whether [Cehlarik] is in or out.

“He’s really played well in Providence, and we just thought he might be able to help us. Some of it may depend on the health of the other guys as far as who’s in and who’s out. If both Cehlarik and Agostino are both in the lineup there’s a chance [they might play together]. They were with [Riley] Nash today in the middle, and he has some of the same qualities as JFK down in Providence. But until we sort through who’s in for tomorrow, and that starts at the top with Bergeron and Backes, then stuff will fall into place for all of them.”

Depending on how Don Sweeney plays with his 23-roster spots, perhaps the time has come to put one of those players on waivers for a trip to the AHL. Simply based on merit it would be Vatrano and the total nothingness he’s shown in his first four games this season, but there would also be a legitimate concern they’d lose the 23-year-old Massachusetts native on waivers for nothing.

For their part, players like Agostino and Cehlarik ripped up the AHL while teamed with Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson in Providence, and were just looking for their chance to carve out a role in Boston. Now they may get their chance based on others not really grasping their opportunity, and they’re ready if that’s the case.

“It’s encouraging for me, but I’m just taking things day-by-day. I’m not looking past anything and I’m looking in the past. I just take things as they come here,” said Agostino, who leads the Bruins two goals and seven points in three games thus far. “This isn’t my first time [up at the NHL], so I’m just going to do whatever I can to make the best impression possible.”

What if Agostino and Cehlarik, a career AHL player and a former third-round pick, can’t make the impact that the Bruins are looking for?

Hopefully by then the Bruins will at least have their top two lines healthy and firing on all cylinders, and can continue to mix and match things in the bottom six until they find a combination of forwards that work. But it may come to a point where the Bruins need to look outside the organization for an impact forward or two, or at least find somebody that can make an impact on the ice rather than will themselves invisible.

Only Beleskey has been at all effective this season as he’s dropped the gloves and played physical at times, and certainly can still be an effective third or fourth liner with the right players skating alongside him. For those reasons along with the massive contract money still owed him, Beleskey should be given every opportunity to succeed in Boston. But one thing is clear at this point: There is too much dead weight on the Bruins roster right now at the forward position, and something needs to be done about it if they hope to pull themselves out of their early-season funk.   

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Marc Savard officially retires from NHL seven years after last game

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Marc Savard officially retires from NHL seven years after last game

It was a foregone conclusion because he hadn’t played an NHL game in seven years since suffering a final concussion whole playing for the Bruins, but Marc Savard called it a career on Monday by officially retiring from the NHL.

Savard played 13 NHL seasons for four different teams and was one of two heralded free agents to sign with the Bruins in 2006 along with defenseman Zdeno Chara.

Savard effectively had his career ended by a nasty head shot delivered by Penguins cheap shot artist Matt Cooke in the spring of 2010, but came back to play 25 games in 2010-11 for Boston the following season.

A Matt Hunwick hit delivered afterwards in Colorado was the final blow.

It was the Cooke hit on Savard that spurred the NHL on the very next season to finally begin outlawing blindside hits and any kind of illegal hits targeting the head.

Savard still had his name included among the Bruins immortalized on the Stanley Cup when the B’s won it in 2011, and was forced to prolong his retirement announcement due to the seven year, $28.15 million contract extension he signed with Boston back in 2009. His contract was included in trades with the Florida Panthers and New Jersey Devils over the last few seasons, but it officially expired at the end of last season.

So the 40-year-old Savard officially announced his retirement on his twitter account: “While I, unfortunately, haven’t been able to play since January 2011 after suffering a career-ending concussion, and with my NHL contract recently expiring, I’d like to officially announce my retirement from the National Hockey League. I wish to thank the New York Rangers, the Calgary Flames, the Atlanta Thrashers and the Boston Bruins organizations for giving me the opportunity to play in the NHL for 13 incredible seasons. I owe everything that my family and I enjoy today to the great game of hockey. It has been a wild and wonderful journey, and one I’ll remember forever. It is impossible for me to give credit to all of the people who have contributed in so many ways to my career, but to those that believed in me, and helped me believe in myself, I’d like to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I believe I can make a positive impact in the world. I love hockey, and I will forever have a passion for this game. I look forward to the chances I may have to give back to the game that has given me so much. I’ve learned a thing or two from some great people throughout my career and life, and I look forward to a chance to pass that along to others. This is not an easy thing for me to put down into words, but I feel as though I’m ready now for the next chapter in my life to begin. Also, last but not least my health is the best it’s been in a very long time and I’m grateful for that.”

The best news for Bruins fans and any fans of Savard is that many of the post-concussion symptoms appear to have lessened, or disappeared, over the years away from the ice. Savard coached his sons at the junior level in Canada once he stepped away from playing, and it sounds like he’s feeling good enough now to purse the coaching thing with a little more fervor.

“I think the biggest thing is that I’m happy where I am in my life,” said Savard to NHLPA.com. “I’m the healthiest I’ve been in a long time. I didn’t want it to linger on any more. My contract is up and I wanted to get it out there and head off in a different direction to pursue a coaching career.”

Savard finished with 207 goals and 706 points in 807 games during his NHL career, but there’s no telling what those final numbers could have been given his offensive skills, his creativity and his place on a Bruins team just beginning to get rolling offensively. Those high-flying days were a long time ago for Savard, however, and it’s good to hear that he’s simply healthy and very much looking forward to the next steps in his life.  

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McAvoy undergoes procedure for 'abnormal heart rhythm'

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McAvoy undergoes procedure for 'abnormal heart rhythm'

BRIGHTON, Mass – As a workhorse 20-year-old hockey player, it wasn’t much of a warning signal when Charlie McAvoy missed Monday’s Bruins practice with what the team initially called “a doctor’s appointment.” But it turned out to be a fairly serious absence as the Bruins announced later in the afternoon that their prized rookie is going to miss roughly two weeks after undergoing a procedure at Mass General Hospital to address an abnormal heart rhythm. 

According to the Bruins statement: “After the Nov. 26 game, Charlie told team physicians that he experienced heart palpitations during the game. Subsequently he underwent an evaluation, which diagnosed him with a supraventricular tachycardia (SVT). The type of SVT Charlie has is not considered to be dangerous to his health but can recur at any time and causes significant symptoms.”

After consulting with a multitude of doctors, McAvoy and the Bruins opted for the procedure because of the high likelihood of the condition’s recurrence. McAvoy will spend the night at Mass General, and is expected to return to the lineup in a couple of weeks. 

The timing of McAvoy’s procedure around the NHL All-Star break means he’ll miss fewer games than he might have otherwise, but it also means the 20-year-old is obviously out of the running to be a replacement for the injured Victor Hedman on the Atlantic Division squad. At this point it’s just good news that the B’s prized young rookie is going to be okay by all accounts, and that the team was able to catch the condition early on with McAvoy’s entire career in front of him. 

The 20-year-old McAvoy has been one of the best rookies in the entire NHL this season with five goals and 25 points in 45 games along with a plus-18 rating, and the B’s D-man also leads all NHL rookies by a wide margin with 22:49 of ice time per game. 

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