Bruins

Neely, Sweeney have Bruins moving in new direction

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Neely, Sweeney have Bruins moving in new direction

WILMINGTON -- Cam Neely knew things might get a little "rocky and bumpy" for the Bruins during the first few weeks of transition to a new management structure. And they did.

Neely, the team president, and new general manager Don Sweeney appeared inexperienced when some attempted big moves fell through on draft weekend. They got less than they probably should have for a 21-year-old prime asset in Dougie Hamilton, and their Friday night machinations -- which included trading Milan Lucic to the Kings -- to move up in the first round, where they could have landed a young franchise defenseman like Noah Hanifin or Zach Werenski, failed. In an odd twist, the Bruins never interviewed or spoke with Hanifin prior to their concerted attempts to package assets for Arizona’s pick, with which they would have selected the Norwood, Mass., native.

That brought a firestorm of criticism that the Bruins didn’t have a long-range plan in place, a notion exacerbated when they sent a third-round pick to the Flyers for cheap-shot artist Zac Rinaldo, of all people.

But they rebounded with impressively strong moves in the July 1 opening of free agency.

They signed the most coveted forward on the market, Matt Beleskey, to a team-friendly $3.8 million-per-season contract, and traded soft winger Reilly Smith to Florida for a big-bodied power forward in Jimmy Hayes. You put all the moves together, along with the four-year contract awarded to Adam McQuaid, and you begin to envision a team that will be much harder to play against than last season’s marshmallow soft crew.

As it stands now, after signing D-man Matt Irwin last week to a one-year deal, the Bruins have 12 forwards and 7 defensemen ready for NHL duty, with goalie Tuukka Rask backed by one of several young netminders under their control. They also have roughly $4 million in cap space, so the suddenly cap-flexible Bruins can also now pounce on any deals that arise from cap-strapped teams, the way the Islanders were able to pick up Johnny Boychuk (from Boston) and Nick Leddy last September. If, say, Brent Seabrook becomes available in a Chicago fire sale, the B’s would presumably have the ability to move.

“If we have any opportunities come up, we now have the flexibility to act on them,” said Neely to CSNNE.com. “If something happens now all the way through training camp where we feel we can improve our club, we have a better chance of adding without saying, 'Okay, now who do we have to subtract?'

“When you’re in a position where you have to move someone in order to acquire someone else, you’re really at a pretty big disadvantage. Anytime you’ve got some [cap] space, it’s a good thing. I’m looking forward to looking at some of the young 'D', and seeing if they can embrace the opportunity. But by no means are we closing the books and saying this is what we’ve got [for a roster].”

There are still major needs, of course.

They have no ready replacement for Hamilton, and don’t have a top flight puck-moving defenseman capable of playing top minutes and quarterbacking the power play. They tried to sign Mike Green, but were outbid by the Detroit Red Wings. But the Black and Gold have been very active in trades and free agency, which is something that wasn’t always the case over the last few years under Peter Chiarelli, and Neely says fans, media and outsiders should be starting to understand Sweeney's strategy.

“Don had a plan that we talked about, that we presented and we really thought we could accomplish,” said Neely. “We knew that it might be a little rocky and bumpy, and we also knew that it would entail [free agency]. There would be plenty of opportunities to second guess (prior to all the moves being made), but we also know that people don’t really know what’s going on inside the four walls [at the Bruins offices], and the conversations that are happening.

“We felt like we had to clean up our cap problems, and get out from under that. We needed a chance to add without subtracting all the time. I think what Don was able to accomplish on July 1, whether it was signing Matt Beleskey or trading for Jimmy Hayes, really assured people that there was some kind of a plan. We weren’t tuned into [the criticism], but we could certainly feel it and were prepared for it.”

Neely spoke about more balance among the four forward lines than recent editions of the Bruins had enjoyed, and a collective effort to improve the B’s scoring (they finished 22nd in the NHL in offense last season). While one would hope it’s a little more complicated than Beleskey and Hayes mathematically replacing the 41 goals scored by outgoing players Lucic, Hamilton and Carl Soderberg, Neely trusts in Sweeney to make these improvements happen.

“I think he’s done a fantastic job," Neely said. "I know it wasn’t easy for him, but you wouldn’t notice it or know that it affected him or bothered him. He kept with the plan he’d put in place, and his work ethic is second to none. His knowledge of the game and players . . . he’s put a lot of time in. I’m not surprised with how he’s handled it, but it was quite an introduction as a new GM.”

With the removal of Chiarelli from the Causeway Street offices, Neely has now emerged as the most powerful voice in the organization. Both he and Sweeney absorbed some shots early on, but anybody who watched them as players -- Neely as a Hall of Fame power forward, Sweeney as a 15-year veteran defenseman -- knows that dusting themselves off and rebounding on July 1 was almost a foregone conclusion.

The waves of initial criticism are over, and now Neely and Sweeney -- who've shown they're not afraid to execute big, bold moves -- are building a team in their image. 

Bobby Orr calls Don Cherry's firing 'disgraceful' says his former coach is 'not a racist'

Bobby Orr calls Don Cherry's firing 'disgraceful' says his former coach is 'not a racist'

Count the greatest Bruin ever - and arguably the NHL's greatest player - among those who are unhappy that Don Cherry lost his job.

Hall of Famer and B's legend Bobby Orr told WEEI's "Ordway, Merloni and Fauria" show that the firing of his former coach, nicknamed Grapes, from "Hockey Night In Canada" telecasts for controversial comments toward immigrants is "disgraceful."

“I know Grapes better than anybody," Orr said. "He’s not a bigot and he’s not a racist. This guy is the most generous caring guy that I know. What they’ve done to him up there is disgraceful, it really is. It's a new world, I guess. Freedom of speech doesn't matter."

Orr, who played for Cherry on the 1974-75 and '75-76 Bruins, said Cherry is "hurt, but he's going to be fine. He's getting some nice calls from his friends here in Boston. He is getting some wonderful support."

Cherry, 85, was fired by Canadian national sports network Rogers Sportsnet, where his "Coach's Corner" segments have been a staple for decades, after his comments on a Nov. 9 telecast where he called on immigrants to buy more poppies or otherwise commemorate fallen military on Canada's Remembrance Day - a.k.a. Veterans Day in the US.

Cherry said at the time: “You people … you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you can pay a couple bucks for a poppy or something like that. These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price.”

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Bruins call up Trent Frederic, hope move to wing can let him tap into his inner power forward

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Bruins call up Trent Frederic, hope move to wing can let him tap into his inner power forward

BRIGHTON, Mass. — Trent Frederic has largely been a bottom-6 center for the Boston Bruins when he’s received his shots at the NHL level in Boston.

So it will be a little different for the 2016 first-round pick when the 21-year-old Frederic gets back into the B’s lineup on Friday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs as a physical left winger based on Boston’s need for healthy bodies up front. Frederic skated on the left side with Par Lindholm and Danton Heinen on a makeshift third line at Thursday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena.

Frederic has just five points in 15 games for the P-Bruins this season and went scoreless in 15 games with Boston last season while mostly in the middle and admitted he hasn’t exactly hit his stride in the AHL as of yet this year.

“I’ve been playing hard and I’ve been playing well,” said Frederic. “It hasn’t exactly gone my way the whole year, but I keep battling through it and playing hard every game.”

Bruce Cassidy is interested to see if plugging the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder on the wing can free him up for some needed physicality and more offense. Those are a couple things the B’s are certainly a little light on up front with David Backes and Brett Ritchie both injured and out for Friday night’s tilt against the Maple Leafs. 

The move to left wing might be just the thing to allow the big, physical forward to tap into his inner power forward, though he did have a whopping 40 penalty minutes in his 15 AHL games this year. 

“We'll see if that frees him up to go out and be physical and play more his style, just straight-line game instead of overthinking it as a centerman," said Cassidy. "We're not going to bring him up as a left shot and throw him on the right wing, I think that's a little unfair. We're already kind of moving him to begin with to see where he's at."

Certainly the Bruins are getting a good look at their organizational depth with all of these call-ups to Boston this early in the season, and that could help them down the line when it gets closer to potentially dealing some of those young forward assets for more NHL help à la Marcus Johansson last spring. Here are the projected line combos and D-pairings for Friday's game based on Thursday’s practice:

FORWARD LINES

Brad Marchand Patrice Bergeron David Pastrnak
Anders Bjork David Krejci Charlie Coyle
Trent Frederic Par Lindholm Danton Heinen
Joakim Nordstrom Sean Kuraly Chris Wagner

DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS

Zdeno Chara Charlie McAvoy
Matt Grzelcyk Brandon Carlo
Urho Vaakanainen Connor Clifton

STARTING GOALIE

Tuukka Rask

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