Bruins

Haggerty: Not many fans of face-off changes among Bruins

Haggerty: Not many fans of face-off changes among Bruins

BOSTON – It may just be that all of these slashing penalties and face-off violations will become a training camp fad of sorts and the preseason period of adjustment will give way to business as usual once the regular season opens.

The NHL can’t possibly hope to sell fans on games like the Bruins' 2-1 overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night at TD Garden that included 16 penalties and 12 power plays that completely marred the normal game flow. Some of it was about the seven slashing penalties handed out by the officiating crew and the ensuing special teams flow that never allowed either team to truly find their 5-on-5 footing.

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Even more prominent, however, is the frustration that many players from both teams are feeling for the strict enforcement of the face-off rules and the impact it’s having on the flow of the game. Brad Marchand called it “an absolute joke” a couple of days ago after watching the first night of preseason hockey. He doubled down on his criticism after watching it play out in a game.

He said it was so bad that players from both teams were laughing at the sheer absurdity of the standstill face-off posture and just how much it’s taking away from the enjoyment, whether it’s fans, the media or even the officials, of a free-flowing NHL game.

“It’s really taking a lot away from the game. You can’t have a winger taking all the face-offs. I mean if you look at the percentages of how many times guys got kicked out tonight, and what it’s taking away from the teams, it’s not worth what’s coming with it,” said Marchand. “Literally both teams were laughing out there about how bad the rule is. It’s becoming a big joke, so there’s got to be something tweaked with it.

“These games are painful. I thought it was a bad rule before I played, but it’s even worse after going through it and actually seeing what it’s like. It’s basically an automatic [face-off] win for the other team. The only thing you’re worried about is not moving before the puck is shot.”

The choppiness resulted in some pretty bad nights in the face-off circle for the Bruins. Ryan Spooner lost 9 of 10 draws and Riley Nash 12 of 19 face-offs while Claude Giroux somehow won 20 of 25 draws despite the difficulty all around him. While Patrice Bergeron was a solidly respectable 9 of 18 in the face-off circle for the evening, the four-time Selke Trophy made no bones wondering aloud what exactly is the point of all this.

Bergeron is rarely critical of anything despite his standing as a prominent, respected player in the league, but he seemed to take major umbrage with rules that are totally messing with his considerable face-off skills. The Bruins top face-off man likened it to Pee Wee hockey when he was 12 where everybody would just stand perfectly still in the face-off circle until the puck was dropped. That little tweak wrings every last bit of competitiveness and 1-on-1 battle out of the ultimate hockey showdown and has left Bergeron with a bad taste in his mouth.

“I think that the face-off is definitely an adjustment. I think that the face-off is a skill and you work your whole career to develop that and you work on your hand-eye and timing and everything and try to take that away. You have to adapt I guess. It’s something that I’ll definitely do, but I don’t think I’m a huge fan,” said Bergeron. “I wonder what they’re really trying to get out of it. I understand that it’s feet above those lines and sticks and whatnot. That being said it also kind of sucks. Hockey is a fast game and they’re really slowing it down.

“Faceoff is a skill and you work on timing, you work on hand-eye, and you know when the linesman is going to drop the puck. And I was thinking more about him kicking me out than dropping the puck. That’s what makes you second guess. It just makes you hesitate and everyone is just standing there. There’s no battle right now. It’s like face-offs when I was 12 years old. Everyone is just standing still and no one is really moving.”

In an interesting wrinkle to the face-off debate, Bruins forward David Backes is a member of the NHL Competition Committee that came up with the stricter enforcement. 

“[Marchand] probably won’t like it, but I was on the competition committee that changed [the face-off enforcement]. I get to hear his gripes and it makes me chuckle a little bit. I think the intent was that all face-offs tended to be ‘scrum draws.’ It wasn’t win the draw. It was ‘don’t lose the draw’ and get the wingers in there, and everything looks like rugby where it’s bash each other together to figure it all out,” said Backes. “The intent was to have a cleanly won face-off whether it’s the second center in there that’s petrified to get a penalty, or it’s the first line center that’s got to be honest.

“The draws are won more cleanly [now] and you can watch it in the games. The puck is dropped and it’s not two guys colliding and banging heads like they’re football players. It’s certainly a skill that needs to be developed. [Bergeron] didn’t like it and he was 50 percent [in his first preseason game], but I bet you the next time he plays it will be 85 percent and it will be a great rule. Because he’s that good on draws and he’s smart enough, he’ll adjust. You’ve just got to be honest. We’ll all maybe have a hug, and life will go on.”

So, what’s the ultimate answer from an NHL that wasn’t tremendously forthcoming with these preseason tweaks and now has a stand-up, influential player like Bergeron kicking it around just like everybody else? It might be time for the league to revisit their face-off crackdown and perhaps get a little more advice from accomplished players like Bergeron for the next time around. But Bergeron, Marchand and others aren’t exactly holding their breath for any more changes. Instead, they simply hope that some of the referees apply a common-sense approach once the regular season begins. 
 

Bruins not ruling out bidding on John Tavares

Bruins not ruling out bidding on John Tavares

Ilya Kovalchuk signed a three-year contract with the Los Angeles Kings Saturday despite receiving significant interest from the Boston Bruins. 

After missing out on acquiring the 35-year-old Russian winger, the Bruins may have set their eye on free agent center John Tavares. 

Tavares, 27, has played all nine seasons of his career with the New York Islanders, scoring 272 goals and tallying 349 assists. He scored a near career-high in goals last season with 37, and should be in line for a large pay-day once NHL free agency begins on July 1st. 

If the Bruins decide to commit big money to Tavares, they risk their salary cap flexibility if they decide to resign Charlie McAvoy and Ryan Donato. Nevertheless, Boston has shown a willingness to spend and upgrade their roster in order to make a Stanley Cup run next season. 

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Morning Skate: Ex-Bruin Dougie Hamilton on the move once again

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Morning Skate: Ex-Bruin Dougie Hamilton on the move once again

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while declining all interviews prior to the July 1 free agency period.

*Dougie Hamilton has now been traded twice in the last three years despite statistically being one of the best defensemen in the NHL. Certainly, he’s got fancy stats fanboys in his corner with an armada of bar graphs and pie charts that will tell you he’s one of the best offensive defensemen in the NHL, and anybody can see that he scored 17 goals last season. But it’s also clear that Hamilton has soured on each of his last two organizations leading to an exit, and the feeling seems pretty much mutual based on the stuff surrounding both of those departures.

I can tell you in Boston that one of the final straws with Hamilton was a Vegas team party at the end of the regular season where every member of the team aside from Hamilton and Reilly Smith was in attendance. They were both traded within a couple of months after that. By all accounts even noted party machine (sarcasm included) Zdeno Chara was there. It was one of several signals in that final season that Hamilton wasn’t really fitting in with what the Bruins were doing as a team. There were other things as well over the years where it was clear that Hamilton was a little sensitive to criticism and a little set in his ways, and self-focused, on the ice. He’s certainly not a bad kid or a divisive teammate, but it says a lot that Hamilton dropped to Boston’s spot in the draft and now has been dealt twice despite his considerable talent.

Hopefully, the Carolina Hurricanes become the NHL organization where Hamilton gets comfortable and doesn’t eventually want to leave for another fresh start.  

 

*Speaking of the Hurricanes/Flames deal, Carolina is certainly getting the new look that they were hoping for.

 

*John Tavares will opt to talk to several teams in the free agent interview period, so he’ll become the focus of the next couple of weeks until he decides where he wants to sign a mega-big deal.

 

*TSN has their top-60 free agents with the pre-July 1 interview period officially set to begin on Monday morning.

 

*The first born-and-bred Brit was selected in the NHL entry draft this weekend when Liam Kirk heard his name called.

 

*For something completely different: Here’s what to expect from the next Jurassic World movie in the series.

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