With a full week of NHL regular season in the books, now is as good a time as any to crack open the Hagg Bag mailbag, and see what’s good with the people of Black and Gold Nation. This should be happy, shiny land given that the Bruins are off to a decent 2-1-0 start following the three-game road trip to open the season, but then again this is a sports team in Boston. All bets are off. As always these are real questions from real fans culled from my twitter account with fans using the #HaggBag hash tag, emails to my email@example.com account and messages sent to my CSN Facebook page.
Now, let’s crack open the bag:
I was just at the Boston Bruins site looking at the stats for last season. Since missing the playoffs last year by 2 points, there are 13 players whom are no longer around. David Backes should replace Loui Eriksson’s 63 points and bring that physical edge of play.
I believe that the young guns stepping up will easily replace the value of the players who have since vacated Boston: Stempniak, Ferraro, Connolly, Talbot, Rinaldo, Irwin, Griffith, Kelly and Koko, just to mention most of them. They not only could match or exceed their play, but [provide] a much-welcomed increase in the production for the team. I truly think that the 2016-17 season will not only be a turnaround year, but rather an eye-opener for the rest of the league
--Bob Boisclair (Message via Facebook)
JH: Remember what I said about “happy, shiny land” up above. Bob is totally there right now riding unicorns and seeing show-ponies just like he was sitting next to Scott Zolak in the New England Patriots broadcast booth. The only thing missing was a giant “Where’s the Beef?” at the end of the email.
In all seriousness, there is something to Bob’s sentiments three games into the season. It looks like David Pastrnak will be able to provide much of the offense that left for Vancouver when Eriksson signed with the Canucks, and the Bruins lost absolutely nothing by cutting ties with players like Brett Connolly, Max Talbot, Matt Irwin and Zac Rinaldo.
The play of young guys like Brandon Carlo and Rob O’Gara also leaves a lot of optimism that the Bruins will be better at the back end this season than people predicted at the beginning of the year. I thought Colin Miller would be the focal point of a blue line turnaround for the B’s this season, but it might turn out to be 19-year-old Carlo instead, who has looked completely at home as a top-pairing guy with Zdeno Chara three games into the season. I would go so far as to say that Carlo’s play has allowed Chara to play better as well after he seemed to be carrying his defensive-partner-for-the-day throughout last season.
It’s still early yet and Carlo will undoubtedly go through some bumps that might take him out of the top pairing spot, but he certainly looks like one of the best six D-men that the Bruins have on their roster now and moving forward, and there’s a pretty high ceiling for a 6-foot-5 player that can skate, make a good first pass and play dirty, mean and nasty in the D-zone when it’s called for.
All that being said the Bruins have played the Blue Jackets, Maple Leafs and Jets thus far on the season, and haven’t been tested by anything close to the best in the league quite yet.
On a scale of 1-10, how mad are you that for Phil Kessel and Tyler Seguin, we basically have Jimmy Hayes and Joe Morrow?
JH: A minus-127. You don’t get “mad” at moves when you cover the team for a living, but it certainly doesn’t reflect well on the return that the Bruins got on the Seguin trade, in particular. At least they now have Carlo to show for one of the second round picks they received from the New York Islanders in the Johnny Boychuk deal a couple of years ago.
The folly of the Seguin trade was that the Bruins got zero draft picks from the Dallas Stars in exchange for a potential franchise talent, and instead got other teams’ players saddled with bad habits, a lack of NHL talent or playing styles that didn’t prove to be a good fit with the Bruins. But it’s been par for the course for the last couple of years: it’s smaller in scope of course, but the third round pick sent to the Flyers for Zac Rinaldo might be one of the biggest misuses of a valued asset I’ve seen in 13 years covering the team.
Have u noticed that the young B's players say “obviously" about a dozen times in every response? If u haven't, sorry now u will
--Bob Camp (@Bob_Camp)
JH: I have…obviously.
When Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid are healthy, who will they replace in the lineup? Carlo should not come out.
--Jeff Ferro (@RossLegends)
JH: Miller is gone for months, so that situation may take care of itself with injuries between now and then. McQuaid is close to a return and it will be interesting to see what the Bruins do. In my opinion, Carlo has already proven he belongs and has a much higher ceiling as an NHL defenseman than either McQuaid or Miller. So he should be in the lineup, and at least be a top-4 defenseman regardless of which players return to good health.
That leaves Colin Miller and Rob O’Gara as the candidates to potentially exit the lineup when McQuaid returns. I think it will be O’Gara because 1) he still has a few things he could benefit from learning at the AHL level and 2) he has options where he doesn’t have to be sent through waivers to go back down to Providence. The Bruins would have to waive either Joe Morrow or Colin Miller if that was the move to make space for McQuaid on the roster, and that’s definitely not going to happen with the talented Miller. I like O’Gara’s game and the way he’s played thus far through three games, but a bigger role with more minutes and diverse situations at the AHL level would be good for the 23-year-old’s development. He might not have quite the same possible top pair ceiling as Carlo, but there’s no way to know until he plays in that kind of a role for the P-Bruins.
What do you think of Rob O'Gara so far?
--Matt McGuirk (@matt_mcguirk_90)
JH: See above: I like O’Gara’s game, I like his hard-working attitude and toughness and he’s shown that he can be an NHL defenseman. But the Yale alum might benefit by getting more ice time and a bigger role at the AHL level once the more experienced Adam McQuaid is ready to return to the lineup.
After the epic collapse last year and general lack of heart the past few years, do you think Chara deserves the captaincy still? #HaggBag
JH: For now, yes. All of the heart in the world was going to be hard-pressed to overcome a substandard defense that was a constant source of weakness for the team last year. Chara has never been a fiery leader or a big dressing room speech guy, but he does still command the respect of everybody in the B’s dressing room and showed during the World Cup of Hockey that he can still play very well in stretches during the season.
I don’t think you’ll ever see the Bruins strip the “C” from Chara during his time in Boston, nor should they given what a tireless worker and ultimate warrior he’s been in helping the B’s capture a Stanley Cup. It’s clear that Patrice Bergeron is the team’s best player at this point and Chara’s on-ice skills are eroding as he turns 40 years old this season. It’s also clear that Bergeron is every bit the leader and captain-type as Chara at this point of his career 13 years into his run in Boston. Bergeron’s time will come a year or two from now when Chara is no longer on the Bruins roster, and it will be embraced by everybody given his work ethic, his attitude and his reputation around the game.
As far as using the collapses over the last two seasons as examples: wasn’t Bergeron one of the lead voices in the dressing room as well? Doesn’t he hold as much accountability from a leadership standpoint as Chara does for the team falling apart over the last couple of years? Using that argument doesn’t really hold water with me.
If anything I have wondered if Julien’s message has grown stale with the players over the last couple of years, and that might have had more to do with epic late season collapses than any waning leadership in the dressing room.
Here's a Luke Cage question: West World is awesome. #thatisall
--Bill Burke (@mousejunkies)
JH: Hey, wait a second…Luke Cage was also very good, though I could have dealt with him saying “Sweet Christmas!” a few more times if they wanted to mix them in there. Haven’t been able to jump in on Westworld yet, but I’ve heard good things.
I think it’s going to be a long season!! I watched the effortless bruins tonight, Chara the 39-year-old guy only one with any backbone. People complain about McQuaid and Kevan Miller, but at least they don’t get pushed around. Same old crap. Maybe Don Sweeney will bring back Max Talbot to play along with Dominic Moore? SOFT team. I want the old-style Bruins back.
--Greg in Nova Scotia
JH: Well, so much for the shiny, happy Bruins fan base.
Haggs, do you think Carlo has shown enough, even with Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller, healthy to keep his top 6 spot?
--Kevin Williams (@Kwillz333777)
JH: Yes. The caveat is that it’s only been three games, and we haven’t seen Carlo really pushed to his limits by a group of elite NHL players. But it looks to me like he has a higher ceiling in the potential department than either McQuaid or Miller, who are good, solid 5-6 defensemen on a good team. Carlo looks like he’s top-4 at the very least, and has shown few problems playing 20 minutes a night aside from a rookie mistake here or there. It’s still early, but I think don’t think Carlo is going anywhere, any time soon. He looks like a keeper, and somebody that is making the B’s blue line better on a nightly basis.
This team is a top-4 D-man from being in the playoffs for sure? Will they land Trouba? Or Fowler
--Nate Raymond (@nater085)
JH: I think they can make the playoffs even if they don’t trade for a top-4 defenseman, but landing a veteran, top-4 puck-mover would move them to much firmer Stanley Cup playoff ground. They’re not a good trade match with the Winnipeg Jets at this point, and it sure seems like the Ducks aren’t going to move a player like Cam Fowler in-season from a team with playoff hopes of their own.
It might be about the development of a young player like Carlo rather than trading valuable assets for a guy outside the organization. As one Bruins exec told me, “we’re done sprinkling our talent around the rest of the league.” That’s a good sign as far as this Bruins team is concerned given the impressive young talent coming up through the ranks.
I don't think I'm alone on the fact that things in the dressing room haven't been the same lately...let's shake things up and give Bergeron the C, and slap an A on Marchand & Backes...Thoughts?
JH: Thanks Nathan. I don’t think you’re going to see things really shaken up at this point. The Bruins aren’t stripping the “C” from Chara as mentioned above, but I do think intense, gritty players like David Backes and Matt Beleskey both deserve major consideration for letters. It’s also only a matter of time until Bergeron is named captain of the Bruins, and I don’t an “A” or a “C” on his sweater is going to change the actual leadership structure inside the room at all.
Longtime Bruins fan out of Montreal going back to Orr (best who ever laced them up). Not much done over the summer to improve this team, cutting a veteran D-man, adding a few retreads, still the same miserable back end, too many small players who can’t win the battles along the wall, (Spooner, Pastrnak, Krejci ) or clear the front of the net, (Krug, C. Miller) Luke Schenn would have fit in just fine (no more need for the Millers or McQuaids of this world as both are injury-prone as their history shows.) If they make the playoffs these munchkins will be toast in a hurry.
JH: Hey Vincent. Keep the faith, eh? It looks like Pastrnak has gained enough weight and strength at 190 pounds to get into the battle a bit more, and has become more of a complete player and game-breaker for the Bruins. It also looks like Carlo is going to bring a needed element as another big, mobile high-end defenseman that can be a top-4 guy. So perhaps things are a little bit rosier than your email makes them out to be.
Could it all come crashing down when the Bruins go through a challenging stretch against some of the NHL’s best? It might, but we’ll have to wait and see a few more weeks before making real observations about this group. But the early returns have been cause for optimism.
Neither Krejci nor Krug have looked good. Are they both still getting up to speed after their surgeries? #HaggBag
JH: Entirely possible in both cases, and understandable how quickly both returned in the preseason.
I love the idea of Pasternak on Bergie's right wing. Bergy has never had a scorer on the right side. Plus, with his and Marchand's defensive skills, Pasternak's weaknesses can be covered up a bit while he improves defensively. Potential? Top five line?
JH: I’m looking forward to seeing what that line looks like when it opens up against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night. I would say they’ve had pretty good players with them in the recent past as Tyler Seguin spent almost the entire 2012-13 season skating with Bergeron and Marchand before getting yanked from that line in the playoffs. Before that it was Mark Recchi, who also brought some finishing ability to that line as well. It was just last year that was a disaster with a limited player in Brett Connolly that somehow couldn’t do anything offensively while skating with two of the best players in the game. Given that Pastrnak looks like he’s ready to explode after scoring four goals in the first three games of the season, the sky is the limit for Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak. They could be the best line in the entire NHL once the chemistry is truly forged, and all three players are healthy and playing at full speed. You heard it here first, and that’s not Haggerty hyperbole either.