The Bruins are enjoying a rare midseason break in the Western part of the country this week, and they’ve earned it. The Black and Gold took eight out of ten points while playing five games in seven days, and have pushed all the way up into a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with the all-important Thanksgiving bench mark date looming at the end of next week. 

So now seems like as good a time as any to open up the Hagg Bag mailbag, field some questions and talk hockey while the going is good with the Black and Gold. As always these are real questions from real readers with tweets using the #HaggBag hash tag, emails to my jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com address and messages to my CSN Facebook page. 

Now on to the bag: 

Nobody talks about Colin Miller. His play so far this year - Good, Bad or Indifferent? #HaggBag

--Steve Forni (@SForni413) 

JH: I’d say a bit indifferent. He’s had a couple of moments, like when he scored a goal in Montreal that looked like it was going to at least help them earn a point at the Bell Centre before the last minute collapse. And in general he’s been much better lately (one goal and a minus-1 in seven games in November) than he was earlier in the season (one assist and a minus-5 in eight games in October), but he still hasn’t made the impact his talents dictate that he should. There are flashes with the skating and the big shot, but it hasn’t all come together for Miller skating in a bottom pairing role with John-Michael Liles. 

 

Now he was scratched in favor of Joe Morrow in Colorado, who played very well in his place after a lengthy time out of the lineup. But Morrow is in the same boat as Miller: a good deal of talent, but he has yet to put it all together as a defenseman, and has shown times where the hockey sense hasn’t always been there. 

With Kevan Miller now traveling with the team and practicing, it’s going to force a tough decision with the D-man group when he’s ready to return to game action. Both Miller and Morrow need to clear through waivers in order to be sent down to the AHL, and the Bruins puck-moving abilities would take a hit in theory if the more stay-at-home Miller were to replace either one of them. 

But that’s only if they’re playing at a high level, and both Miller and Morrow haven’t been consistently at that high level through the first month of the season. Bottom line: Miller is talented enough to be better and should be better, but it’s also very telling that 19-year-old Brandon Carlo has already taken a leap over him in terms of importance to this team. 

Hey Joe,

I need to vent. The Bruins are playing well, so I’ll pick a different topic. 

The replay rule concerning offsides NEEDS to be adjusted. I understand the thought process: to prevent an egregious offsides from directly leading to a goal makes sense.  But that is not what I have seen the review used for. 

A split-second offsides call is "missed" on the ice, and then 20, 30, or even 60 seconds later the goal is scored. The opposing coach immediately looks for any reason to challenge the goal and finds that a half-hour before the goal was scored, the wingers skate lifted a 1/4 inch off the ice creating an offsides. No goal.  THIS IS CRAZY! There needs to be an adjustment to this rule. Maybe after 15 seconds, it can no longer be challenged or something like that. 

It appears they have already made an internal adjustment in regards to goaltender interference. When the rule was first introduced coaches were challenging every goal for goaltender interference, and it seemed like they were winning a good amount of these challenges. Something changed at some point because you really don't see too many of these types of challenges anymore. But then again, maybe coaches are just holding onto their challenge for a chance to find an offside that had zero to do with the actual goal being scored, and bailing their team out from having just given up a goal. 

 

Thanks for letting me vent,

John D

JH: Thanks John. I agree with every word that you just wrote. There needs to be a time limit, or a statute of limitations if you will, for offside challenges that led to goals being scored. Perhaps 20 seconds is a bit more reasonable because I do have some sympathy for a missed call that leads to a key goal in a game, but I also recognize that this coach’s challenge has very much fallen within the land of unintended consequences. It slows the game down terribly, and it takes away the human element of officiating that’s always been a part of every level of hockey. 

It’s also taking goals off the boards on many occasions, and I am not in favor of any rule, quirk or adjustment that takes away from offense at the NHL level. The practical application might be a tad complicated when the refs are trying to figure out exactly when the offside took place, and whether the coach has a right to challenge the play. But it would certainly take less time than the 3-5 minute delay that seems to take place when one of these offside plays gets reviewed, and would lessen the refs tendency to whistle everything close as offside so that replays don’t continuously reverse their on-ice calls. 

My worst nightmare is that the NHL turns into the NBA where instant replay has turned into an almost every-quarter occurrence where the game grinds to a halt, and points are taken off the board minutes after they were scored. That bothers me quite a bit. Anyway, I’m with you John. I just hope the NHL and their lawmakers are listening. 

Eklund saying Shattenkirk to Boston talks heating up again. Any word? I trust you more than him lol

--Jeff Fero (@RossLegends)

JH: I can’t speak to the veracity of Eklund’s reports, and I haven’t heard anything about talks being rekindled with the St. Louis Blues for Kevin Shattenkirk. A couple of things to consider that might make it a reasonable development: the Blues have been just “okay” out of the starting gate, and the Bruins need to make some kind of a move with Kevan Miller closing in on a return for the Bruins. But there’s also this simple fact: Shattenkirk has been the Blues best defenseman early in the season, and they have playoff hopes of their own this season. I can’t see them trading him right now given all of the above, and the Bruins would be wise to not trade any forwards until Frank Vatrano is ready to return a little over a month from now. 

 

So long story short, I don’t think the Bruins are hot and heavy on the path of Shattenkirk right now, but I do expect they might be closer to the holidays, or the New Year. My own personal opinion is that either Kevan Miller or Adam McQuaid needs to be dealt in the next few weeks, and that should be the top priority for Don Sweeney with a team that’s surpassed expectations thus far. 

Good Morning Joe,

Thanks for all the excellent hockey work you do!!My question is do you believe the B’s are putting enough emphasis on the shootout? It seems like if the B’s don’t win it in overtime it’s going to be a struggle for them to get a win in the shootout. 

Much like the NFL where you have offense, defense and special teams I would think the shootout is an extremely important part of the equation. From what I’ve seen over the last few years I don’t believe the B’s have done a good job to try and set themselves up for success.

Sincerely,

--Pete Condon

JH: Well, Pete, they do practice it from time to time, and they have been a pretty good overtime team over the last few years. The shootout happens less frequently than in the past because of the OT, so I think it’s more important to be prepared for that than the shootout. But the simple fact with the B’s is that they don’t have a great lineup of shootout-type players, and that’s been the case since they moved on from guys like Tyler Seguin and Phil Kessel. 

Now, David Pastrnak has the skill to be a very good shootout guy, and players like Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Ryan Spooner have enjoyed their moments on the shootout. But they don’t have a great deal of snipers, and Tuukka Rask has long been a voice of dissent when the topic of shootouts comes up in conversation. So it may be that the Bruins are never a good shootout team no matter how much they practice, and that won’t necessarily change unless they acquire a T.J. Oshie-type that has that as one of its specialties.  

What do you think about the home record vs. away record over last couple of years? Is the difference psychological?

--Mathieu Brunner (@mathieubrunner)

JH: I don’t think it’s psychological. There’s the obvious that players will tell you: a hockey team plays a simple game on the road, and doesn’t try to put on a show like they do on home ice while getting fancy and perhaps cheating a bit for more offense. But I think there are other real life things at play. As a father of two young kids, I can tell you that it’s much easier to get more work done on the road than when I’m at home, and that’s just reality. 

 

Key Bruins players like Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask all have been blessed with young families as well, and that’s something that’s never really accounted for in the discussion. It’s under the bigger heading of more responsibility, and in a sense distraction, for a player while at home rather than on the road, and things that could arguably take away from the laser focus that the Bruins seems to have on the road. 

They are still pros at the end of the day and they’re preparing for home games as best they can, and the Bruins have actually improved on home ice in recent weeks after a few early season setbacks. I’m certainly not saying it’s the biggest season behind the home ice struggles of the last couple of years, and I think it’s much more about playing a looser style on home ice. But it’s an interesting factor that’s never taken into account when we discuss it, and I can easily see how it would be much more challenging for a young dad to have the same intense focus that a young, single player does with not much else on their plate. 

With the play of Daniel Vladar in Providence, how do you see the goalie situation, outside of Rask, playing out moving forward? #HaggBag

--Ray Guarino (@rayguarino) 

JH: Vladar has been pretty good four games into his AHL career, and certainly has a bright future all things considered. But I also liked what I saw of Zane McIntyre thrown into some tough situations in New York and Montreal in a trial-by-fire situation as Tuukka Rask’s backup, and I’d like to see what he looks like after a bit more work and development in Providence. 

One thing I can tell you at this point about the goalie situation: I’ve seen enough of Malcolm Subban (3.31 goals against average and .888 save percentage along with a 1-6-1 record) to not think he can play at the NHL level, and certainly isn’t ever going to be a No. 1 goalie for a good team. Vladar may end up back in the ECHL temporarily once McIntyre returns to Providence, and he should do so knowing that he can play at the AHL level. 

My big revelation of the first month for the Bruins goalie situation outside of Rask is that McIntyre might have a future as an NHL backup, and he’s hopped over Subban on the organizational depth chart at this point.

Joe

 

We're at the point of the schedule where the teams and outsiders look at the standings by Thanksgiving and say yes this team has a decent chance unless the wheels fall off like they did for Montreal when they lost Carey Price. As it is obvious the same is true for the B's as they can't afford an injury to Tuukka or this team will go south very quickly in the standings. He also needs a decent backup who can spare him off because the B's need to monitor his workload so that he is fresh for the playoffs but also on a roll leading into the post season.  

Overall I'm glad the team has done well to date. They've had some bumpy games but overall they have lived up to expectations.  The other lines are starting to come around, which is a pleasant thing since this team will go nowhere depending upon just one line to do the scoring. I think the Krejci line is starting to show they can contribute, and having that power forward presence on the wing in Backes has allowed David to wheel on the ice and set up plays.  Spooner has played better recently and when Vatrano returns it could be interesting to see what happens to Spoons?  Does he go back to centering the third line or is he offered in a deal? Having his speed on the team helps, but he is also effective on the half-wall of that 1st power play unit. 

The third line has contributed lately and Czarnik is showing the team what was very evident at training camp, and I truly believe he can make that line better because he is creative.  Up to a week ago when the recent winning streak happened, I thought that Riley Nash was not suited for that third line center role because of his lack of creativity. But recently he has shown me a lot of little things such as on face-offs, his forechecking especially using a great stick (in breaking up plays or on the fore-check- i.e. causing turnovers in the offensive or neutral zones).  We do need more from Beleskey offensively- he needs to chip in close to 20 goals this year. 

The fourth line has been very good by not only creating energy but also by chipping in offensively.  I think the loss of Acciari has hurt, but actually Hayes does look fine out there in the last two games vs. Arizona and Colorado.  He has not scored, but he has been good on the forecheck and creating some chances for himself and his linemates. I do not think he will be going back to the third line any time soon unless there is an injury.  And please Claude do not use him on the PP anymore. There are more skilled players on this team now. 

 

On defense where all of us felt would be the team's Achilles's heal, they've done all right. They're making mistakes but I like how the group as a whole is moving the puck now.  The entire league is buzzing about the play of Carlo, and rightfully so with the +/- this kid has while playing against the league's best.  There will be tougher opponents coming but hopefully he'll continue his overall consistent play. He's also chipped in offensively, which has been nice especially since I think that was the reason why he did not go in the first round and slipped to the second round of his draft year. Colin Miller despite having the tools has been shaky at times, but has played better than last year. With Miller back soon and combined with Morrow they will provide necessary depth going forwards. 

The coaching staff has done well again and you have to hand it to Claude and his coaches: they have gotten the team to buy into the game plan hopefully they keep it up.  Donnie has been silent as the prices for players combined with teams being up against the cap there has not been too much on the trade front.  I'm totally glad the team was not sucked into the asking price for Jacob Trouba. Could they use a top four defenseman? Absolutely. 

Hopefully something can be worked out not only to help the team this year, but for the future. No more rentals please.  The front office has done well at the draft table as these picks are showing us that they have potential, and will challenge for positions soon.  Have you heard anything on the replacement for Keith Gretzky?

They'll need to get someone into place soon to act as the coordinator for the scouting staff as they begin the task of making lists for the 2017 draft.  What NCAA free agents are available this year?  The only names I've heard are Nicolas Schilkey, Justin Kloos center from U of Minnesota, and BU's Miles Wood.  Do you feel the team will be able to sign Ryan Fitzgerald to an ELC as I believe he's in his last year?  I think besides Fitzgerald I believe [Anders] Bjork, Jesse Gabrielle, and Jakub Forsbacka Karlsson could be ready for pro hockey. Gabrielle has proved enough in Junior so sending him back to play over-age makes no sense. 

There has been talk of a right-handed shot defenseman which would be helpful playing with Torey Krug on the second pairing and possible names include: Trouba, Justin Faulk, Matt Dumba, Kevin Shattenkirk (as a UFA not via trade), or even Chris Tanev. But with Zee's possible last year being next season do you think the club needs to acquire a left shot defenseman during the off season or by 2018 to give the team Torey and ???? on the left side for the top two pairings?  Not sure if we can plug in Zboril or Lauzon yet? But if not does Donnie look at plugging a name from the following group of possible available d-men: Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Oliver Ekman Larsson, Ryan Murray, Jonas Brodin, Marc Edouard Vlasic, or Alexander Edler (would not be a long term solution). 

 

Take Care,

Greig Young

Muskoka, Canada

JH: Thanks for the thoughts, Greig. I’ll pick on a couple of things quickly. I think Charlie McAvoy could be the future No. 1 defenseman that comes into the picture when Zdeno Chara is winding things up, and may be a pretty special player for the Bruins a couple of seasons from now. The Bruins are high on him and they definitely should be. He could be all done at Boston University after this season, spend one year apprenticing as rookie D-man next season and then really be ready to spread his wings a couple of years from now.

A veteran might not hurt if McAvoy stays in school, or the Bruins decide he’s not quite ready for prime time at some point. But lining up the names now seems a little premature given all the talented young D-men they have coming down the pipeline. 

As far as signing their own prospects goes: I do think Ryan Fitzgerald might end up being a tough sign as he stands in his final season of college hockey. I have no real read on that situation at this point, but I think much of it depends on how well his senior season goes for him at Boston College. If he wins the Hobey Baker, perhaps he gets the same kind of momentum Jimmy Vesey did going into a summer of wooing from teams around the league. But I’ve got to think a kid with Boston roots like Fitzgerald really wants to play for the Bruins. 

I also think Anders Bjork is a guy the Bruins have to sign after this season if they want to hold onto, and they should given the way he’s really exploded in the last year or so. Bjork was one of Boston’s best young players in development camp, and looked like he could be a real asset for the Black and Gold.

The bottom line is that the Bruins prospect cupboard is bursting with talent, and that’s a very good thing for the franchise as players like Brandon Carlo and Austin Czarnik are already busting through at the NHL level.