There are no wins and losses this week for the Bruins with the NHL and NHLPA’s first stab at a bye week in full effect. Still, there have been some off-the-charts changes for the Black and Gold to try and take stock of as well.
Oh by the way, there’s also the NHL trade deadline that’s now less than two weeks away with the Bruins rumored to be one of the potentially big movers given some of the several needs on the roster.
So, today is a perfect time to answers some questions in the bye week edition of the Hagg Bag mailbag, which as always is real tweets sent to my account using the #HaggBag hash tag, real emails sent to my firstname.lastname@example.org email address and real messages send to my CSN Facebook page, which you should “like” if you haven’t already done so over the years. Now on to the Hagg Bag:
Eight of the last 10 Bruins games are at the Garden. Will that be the deciding factor in our playoff fate?
--Randy Chafe (@randynewf)
JH: Undoubtedly. It’s going to come down to the last few games of the season for the Bruins, just as it has over the past few seasons. Obviously, it didn’t work in each of the past two seasons, and last season they similarly ended things with a bunch of games at home where they couldn’t close the deal for the postseason.
The Bruins have to hope that the three games won on the TD Garden ice under Bruce Cassidy are a trend of things to come, and that it will allow them to finish strong and seize a playoff spot rather than backing in. It won’t be easy, though.
The last couple of games will be against playoff teams in the Ottawa Senators and Washington Capitals (who the Bruins just can’t seem to beat), and one would expect that other home dates against Florida, Tampa, Nashville and Dallas aren’t going to be pushovers either. That being said, every team needs to show they deserve the playoffs in order to get in, and that’s what the Black and Gold will have to do in the season’s final weeks, be it at home or on the road.
If you could be a superhero in the MCU, who would you want to be and why? #Haggbag
--Thomas Deon (@tdeon26)
JH: Great question. Well, if it was based on personal characteristics, then I’d probably be Wolverine (under 6-feet tall, hairy and known to rock mean sideburns and smoke cigars from time to time). But I’ve always been an X-Men fan and I grew up with the Chris Claremont era of comic books. So, to be able to turn myself metal, super-strong and super-indestructible like Colossus was something that always intrigued me as a kid. The fact he could easily turn it on and turn it off rather his appearance being a permanent change like a Nightcrawler or Beast is also a plus. Besides, Peter Rasputin always seemed like a happy, honorable and peaceful guy rather than a tormented soul like Wolverine or Cyclops, and a superhero could do a lot worse than Kitty Pryde in the girlfriend department.
What's your take on who the Bruins will protect for the expansion draft (assuming 7F/3D/1G version)?
JH: I wrote a story about this in late November, and the potential protected list for the Black and Gold hasn’t really changed at all since then. That could be subject to change if they traded for a player like Gabriel Landeskog that they would have to free up a spot to protect, but the truth is the Bruins aren’t going to be all that hurt by the expansion draft. They may lose Kevan Miller or Adam McQuaid, but I don’t think one of those two players getting removed from the back end would be the worst thing for the Black and Gold.
Here is my protected list with players like Brandon Carlo, Frank Vatrano and Austin Czarnik exempt from being taken in the expansion draft by the Vegas franchise:
Forwards: Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, David Backes, David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, Matt Beleskey, Ryan Spooner
Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Colin Miller
Goaltender: Tuukka Rask
Players unprotected and eligible for expansion draft: Tim Schaller, Kevan Miller, Adam McQuaid, Jimmy Hayes, Anton Khudobin, Riley Nash, Malcolm Subban and Joe Morrow.
The fact the Bruins aren’t in danger of losing a good players speaks to management’s preparation for the expansion draft, but it also speaks more deeply to a real lack of NHL talent within the Bruins organization beyond their top players.
ODE TO THE HABS
Now I lay me down to sleep
I leave the Habs to whine and weep
T'was an epic battle with the mighty Bruin
Habsville now lies in total ruin
Michel screamed "Get pucks in deep"
But the Bruin Mountain was just too steep
Now haul your sorry ass to Montreal
Good riddance and a goodnight to all
--Virgil Cairns (via CSN Facebook page)
JH: Beautiful stuff, Virgil. I can’t wait to see the sequel poem about Claude getting hired up in Montreal after last weekend’s epic butt-kicking.
Haggs —fairweather fans (like me) want to know: what's with the week off? #Bruins
--Bill Pepper (@whatgreatstuff)
JH: It’s the first time the NHL is trying out a “bye week” where each team gets five consecutive days off from practice and games in January or February. It’s part of what’s resulted in the crazy compacted schedule for all 30 NHL teams this season, and it’s something that the NHL and NHLPA are going to review after the season is over to see if it’s worth continuing. I’m not so sure the players will want to keep it after going through the compacted schedule this year, but I guess that depends on how much they enjoyed their little five-day vacations in the middle of the grinding regular season.
Landeskog or Duchene? Seems like Landy is younger Backes and Duchene is goal-scoring winger. Duchene seems better target
--Tyler Gerholdt (@tylerxgerholdt)
JH: Can I vote for Nathan MacKinnon instead?
If the Bruins are being forced to deal Brandon Carlo or Charlie McAvoy in order to get a deal done with the Avalanche, then MacKinnon is the only player I would even entertain doing that for. He’s a potentially great player. Landeskog and Duchene are merely good ones who won’t make a giant impact with the Bruins.
Certainly Landeskog is the kind of big, productive winger that the Bruins need more of, but his numbers have always been solid rather than spectacular. He also has a past concussion history and seems to have softened his play a bit since signing his second contract with Colorado.
The fact that the Avalanche are motivated to deal their young captain, who is on a reasonable contract, is a major red flag to me. As far as Duchene goes, I like his speed and his offensive skills. But he’s only topped 55 points three times in his eight-year career and is a career minus-46 including a minus-19 this season. I’d make a deal for him, but only if the Bruins can also find a way to ship out David Krejci at the same time. Duchene makes a lot more sense for the Canadiens than he does for the Bruins, unless Boston can move one of their top two centers, and the prices are simply too high coming from the Avs right now.
The Shattenkirk to Bos rumors don't make sense. Why give up the assets to get a UFA and their future RHD strong w 25,6, CM
--Ron C (@sportshuddle55)
JH: Kevin Shattenkirk to Boston only makes sense if the St. Louis price tag comes way down for him as a rental, or if he comes way off the expected seven-year, $49 million plus contract demands for the puck-moving defenseman. I don’t see either of those things happening, and you don’t want Shattenkirk blocking your young guys like Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy as they look like they could be bookend guys on the right side of your defense for the next 10 plus years.
I see Shattenkirk going to the Rangers and some around his camp say that’s where he’s wanted to go for a long time once he hits free agency, with Boston and Philly as other potential East Coast spots he might be interested in. We shall see.
What's the story with [Anders] Bjork? He remains unsigned? Will he pull a Vesey?
--James Rosano (@RosanoJames)
JH: Bjork is again lighting it up for Notre Dame in his junior season with a career-best 17 goals and 40 points in 23 games for the Fighting Irish. He’s really surpassed initial offensive expectations for him coming out of his draft year. Bjork now profiles as a potential top-six forward with offensive upside rather than a third-line forward after his time at the US National Team Development Program. So, those are all good things for him, and Bjork was one of the best players on the ice at last summer’s development camp with the Bruins.
The word I hear is that the Bruins aren’t anticipating any big issues signing Bjork when the time comes. I would expect them to make a push to do that after this season’s clear domination at the NCAA level. That would take any possible chance of being a free agent out of the equation and give the Bruins exactly the kind of high-upside top-six forward they could use in their organization. Bjork would team with Peter Cehlarik, Jake DeBrusk and Zach Senyshyn to give the Bruins some very good prospects ready to crash the Black and Gold scene in Boston.
So. the long answer to your question is that he will remain unsigned as long as he’s a college athlete at Notre Dame, but it sounds like it’s going to have a happy ending between Bjork and the Bruins.
Which forced narrative meant more to you personally - Claude, Dougie, Loui, Lucic (still being good) or anti-stats? Thanks!
--Arcot Ramathorn (@RonBergyd37)
JH: Actually it’s none of the above. My forced anti-narrative for the new Most Interesting Man In the World is the one I’m most proud of. That guy is a fraud, Dos Equis, and you guys know it. That ad campaign should have retired with the old lion of winter. Hope that answers your very serious and well-thought out question.
I believe it was late in the 2014-15 season when I watched you ask Claude a very reasonable question after a game - I think it was why he didn't use one of his best players (Bergeron? Marchand? Pastrnak?) in a long shootout they ultimately lost - and Claude just reamed you out, very unnecessarily and unprofessionally, I thought.
I sensed that moment was a turning point in your relationship with him. Up until then you seemed to be able to joke with him, but after that incident you became way more critical (deservedly so) of his coaching, the style of play he wanted, and his inability to integrate younger players into the lineup. For his part, Claude seemed to stop being as open and talkative with you. You did your job, he did his.
So, it must be tremendously gratifying for you to have the last laugh, so to speak.
I imagine it was difficult to cover the team the past couple of years while getting next to nothing of substance from the coach. But now with Claude going to Montreal? And with a Bruins team playing like they've been set free? With a coach that actually allows younger players to play, make mistakes, learn, and develop? It's a writer's dream!
As they say, good things come to those who wait. Or is it the dregs fall to the wicked? Either way, keep up the good work, writing, and coverage. I think you have the most insight and are the best of the "team reporters" at CSNNE.
JH: Thanks for the kind words. I appreciate your trust and the interest you show in my work, and I promise to always ask tough questions and give the fans my honest assessment of the team.
But I’d also love to set the record straight on things with Claude Julien. I highly respect Claude as a very good hockey coach and for the ten mostly successful years he had in Boston. Clearly, the Canadiens respect him even more after signing him to a five-year deal for between $20-25 million.
Claude could get short with questions from reporters in times of stress. He definitely didn’t like me asking him why he didn’t use Brad Marchand in a shootout loss or why he didn’t use his top goal-scorer (Marchand) on the top power play unit. Sometimes we went back and forth because I wanted the question answered, so I could pass along an answer to curious, and sometimes furious, Bruins fans who were asking these exact questions every day.
But Claude was always a pro until his very last days coaching the Bruins and always answered my questions in his good-natured way after those spats. Claude sent me his post-firing statement in an email when he didn’t have to if he’d held a grudge against me in our time working together. I’m sure he would have given a respectful, thoughtful answer had I been able to ask him a question on the very French-heavy conference call earlier this week announcing his hiring with Montreal.
I wouldn’t ever delight in anybody losing their job, and that goes double for somebody like Claude that carried himself like a true gentleman at (almost) all times. Sure he called me a “shock journalist” for asking him about his job security in the last few weeks in Boston, but you could tell there was some regret there about that comment when he answered the question at practice the following day when things had calmed down.
When I see him next we’ll shake hands, perhaps exchange a joke or two and both go about our business like we’re supposed to in a professional environment like the NHL. It’s easy to paint individuals as feuding, or at each other’s throats, because disagreements pop up from time to time, but that simply wasn’t ever the case between Claude Julien and yours truly. I wish him the best in Montreal and am glad we’ll see him often over the next five-plus years with the Habs. How will Bruins fans feel about their beloved coach going to the Habs after a 10-year legacy coaching the Black and Gold? That’s the real interesting question to me.