Bruins

Do the Bruins need to add toughness to protect Marchand?

column_spark_tough_guy_120517.jpg

Do the Bruins need to add toughness to protect Marchand?

There are some unmistakable warning signs when it comes to the Boston Bruins, and opponents taking liberties with their best players on the ice.

It actually might seem like a non-story right now because the Bruins are very close to achieving a fully healthy lineup for the first time all season. But it may not stay that way for very long if the B’s don’t make sure they’re protecting their best players with everything they’ve got in the team toughness department.

MORE BRUINS

In fact, it should make you wonder if the Bruins need to dig a little deeper into the available tough guy/enforcer supply to make certain they’ve got every manner of protecting for their high-end skill guys. The Bruins actually had Ryan White with the team for weeks on a tryout while they mulled over their roster, but in the end both sides opted to go in different directions with the Bruins keeping their young fourth-line guys intact.

That was before Brad Marchand started getting targeted with big hits from nearly every team the Bruins played, and missed 8-of-10 games with two different stints where the B’s indicated that he was in the concussion protocol. It all started when the Bruins got pushed around by the Washington Capitals while losing to them last month, and Tom Wilson clobbered Marchand with a hit that dazed the left winger. Later on in the same game John Carlson clipped Marchand with a hit aimed at his knees that was well behind the play, and left the B’s agitator angry on the bench as he shattered his stick against the boards.

Marchand proceeded to miss the next two games before returning for the Hockey Hall of Fame weekend home-and-home against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He once again got clocked by Leo Komarov and then missed the next six games before again coming back for a big statement win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Marchand has been lighting it up with a goal and five points along with a plus-5 in three games since coming back, and is clearly feeling better given how involved he’s been in everything happening on the ice. But Marchand once again got smashed by a massive Ivan Provorov hit when he got caught with his head down in the neutral zone, and was forced to miss the rest of the first period while getting checked on in the dressing. Marchand returned to the game and factored heavily into the shutout win, but what if he never made it back from that big hit?

What if Marchand ended up in the concussion protocol for the third time within a month’s time where repeated head injuries can spell real problems for NHL players, and their long-term health and well-being could be in jeopardy?

Bruce Cassidy mentioned after the Flyers win that the general rise in abuse heaped on Marchand by opponents this season would be a topic of discussion for the team. Marchand himself certainly noticed that he was catching a higher rate of big blows this season, and that’s not something you want to hear if you’re a Bruins fan.  

“I’m just frustrated,” admitted Marchand after the Philly game. “I’ve been hit more this year than every other year combined in my career. I just need to do a better job of keeping my head up. Sometimes that’s just the way things shape up during the game.”

Some big hits and some concussions can’t be prevented, and there is a limit to how much anything can discourage or deter those types of consequences. But it seems just as clear that the Bruins, as currently constituted, aren’t putting a lot of fear into the other teams when it comes to squarely targeting Marchand for punishment. Marchand will always put himself into harm’s way with the fearless style that he employs on the ice, and it’s part of what makes him one of the best all-around players in the NHL right now.

Maybe the Bruins will have enough in the team toughness department now that David Backes is healthy and back in the lineup, and feared pugilist Adam McQuaid is slowly approaching a return while on the ice rehabbing from a broken leg. Add them to Zdeno Chara and Kevan Miller, and the Bruins still have players that can stick up for their fallen teammates when necessary. Backes certainly thinks the Bruins have what’s required within their group to protect their teammates, and that’s something he takes very seriously.

“I don’t think we need anybody to take advantage of our best players. That’s for darn sure. The new NHL isn’t necessarily intimidating that guy [throwing the big hit] so he stops it, but it’s going after their best players to make them uncomfortable,” said David Backes. “They can tell their own guys that ‘If you’re going to be hard on Marchand then they might kill me out there tonight, and I don’t like that.’ I don’t necessarily think it’s fear, but you’ve got to have that counter-action or repercussion as at least a threat so they don’t start taking liberties with [Marchand].”   

But perhaps the Bruins need more to ensure that ultra-valuable skill players like Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy remain upright and free of egregious cheap shots for the rest of the season. White, by the way, has 43 penalty minutes in six games for the San Diego Gulls after signing a minor league deal with the Anaheim Ducks, and certainly looks like he could have been exactly that guy when he was hanging around with the Bruins. The Providence Bruins actually have a big, hard-hitting 5-foot-10, 234-pound defenseman/forward named Sena Acolatse, who leads the AHL with six fighting majors this season, and doesn’t look like the type of player that would be shy about protecting his teammates.

In all he’s got 42 career fights during his seven-year AHL career, and has racked up well over 600 penalty minutes while still showing he can actually play when he’s not duking it out with an opponent.

The debate for the Bruins would be the same as it is for most NHL teams in this day and age. There is limited NHL roster space for players that are one-dimensional tough guy types, and that goes doubly so for a Bruins team that’s already got an NHL roster stocked with forwards climbing over each other for playing time.

The bottom line is this for the Bruins: If they can unearth an intimidating player that can discourage even one massive hit that might knock Marchand back out of the lineup for a significant portion of time, it would be well worth having that player around. Nobody is asking these Bruins to turn back the clock to the Big Bad B’s Bullies that won it all back in 2011, and the current NHL climate wouldn’t allow it anyway.

But the players in the Bruins dressing room should be getting a little tired of other teams feeling like they can take runs at Boston’s best players whenever the mood strikes them, and not pay any price as a result of it.   

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

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

cp-morning-skate.jpg
NBC Sports Boston Photo

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. 

 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Vanek? McDonagh? Questions abound as trade deadline approaches

cp-spark-hagg-bag-021918.jpg
File photo

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!

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE