Bruins

Bruins-Blackhawks also a classic matchup for Cassidy

Bruins-Blackhawks also a classic matchup for Cassidy

BOSTON – For his own personal enjoyment, the Winter Classic matchup between the Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks couldn’t have been tailor-made any better for coach Bruce Cassidy.

It’s the Original Six NHL team that’s employed him for the past decade and elevated him to B’s bench boss for the past three seasons against the Original Six team that drafted him in the first round all the way back in 1983.

Certainly, a Bruins/Habs rivalry game might have been better from the standpoint of pure emotion on the ice and maybe even entertainment value.

But it didn’t work out that way when the two teams tangled a couple of years ago outdoors at Gillette Stadium and it certainly didn’t merit a repeat matchup. Either way, there are no two crests that Cassidy has more of a fondness for across the NHL than that of Boston’s Spoked B and Chicago’s Indian Head.

So there will most definitely be a little extra spring in his step on New Year’s Day at Notre Dame.

“If I was the one picking the matchup, this would be it,” said Cassidy to NBCSportsBoston.com. “Listen, I think it’s going to be a great experience. One, it’s the outdoor game that speaks for itself at Notre Dame. And No. 2 it’s Chicago. It’s the team I was drafted by. I didn’t play a lot of games, but any that I did play in it was Chicago. I’ve always been pretty fond of their crest as well, so it will be great when we get going.”

“The old [Chicago] Stadium was unbelievable...unbelievable. The national anthem, to me, was one of the spectacles of sports. If you like the Indy 500 or the Kentucky Derby, then you should have been at Chicago Stadium just once to experience it. The hair would stand up on your neck. I know when they built the new United Center they put some of the old pipes in there to try and keep the old sound. When I used to get scratched we wouldn’t stay in the press box because it was too small. We’d stay in what was called the organ loft, and I’d be standing right next to the organ and the anthem singer. It was so loud I couldn’t even hear Wayne Messmer singing, and he was right next to me.”

Interestingly enough, the Blackhawks turned out to be the only NHL organization that Cassidy suited up for in a pro playing career that was impacted almost immediately by knee injuries. Still, Cassidy managed to play 36 games for the Blackhawks between 1983-1990 and has fond memories of former teammates, coaches and the general manager that drafted and developed him over some pretty interesting years for the 'Hawks that formed him as a coach. 

“Jim Playfair, Trent Yawney, Doug Wilson, Bob Murray, Marc Bergevin, Jim Johansson, Cam Russell, Jimmy Waite and Ryan McGill. There are a lot of us that I ended up playing with that stayed in the game. It’s almost a funny thing that so many guys from that era ended up staying in the game as coaches or GM’s,” said Cassidy to NBCSportsBoston.com. “Curt Fraser coached. Dirk Graham coached. Rick Vaive coached for a little while. Bob McGill was a coach in the American League. When I retired and started coaching [in the AHL] there was a lot of us, so that was pretty interesting.

“I don’t why that was. Was it [longtime Blackhawks GM] Bob Pulford, who was a constant there a long time? I always liked Pulley. You would hear some things afterward, but he was a really nice guy to me even though he sent me down [to the minors] a lot. He always treated me as a person. I stayed at his house once for a month after I’d gotten hurt as a high draft pick.”

The sheer number of pro coaches produced by the Blackhawks from the mid-80s-90s is remarkable as Cassidy just reeled them off while bumping into those former Chicago and Saginaw Hawks teammates amid his travels as a pro hockey coach. Surely most of them won’t be at Notre Dame on New Year’s Day, but Cassidy won’t be blamed if his mind drifts to those memories a bit before he gets his game face on at puck drop for his first Winter Classic as an NHL bench boss.

“I had a lot of good friendships there because it was the only pro organization that I was with [as a player] and coached there for a while as well,” said Cassidy. “Me and Eddie [Belfour] started together in Saginaw and he was down there for a couple of years. Darren Pang, who is in TV now, we played together for a few years and were good friends from Ottawa. So there are a lot of old [teammates] that I’ll still see around the league.”

Pretty much all of those former teammates have moved on from the Blackhawks, like Cassidy himself, but there’s going to be a special kind of energy with the Bruins coach behind the bench once the anthem gets going on New Year’s Day for the puck drop between the Black and Gold and the Blackhawks. 

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Hagg Bag Mailbag: Seeking some answers during the Bruins losing streak

Hagg Bag Mailbag: Seeking some answers during the Bruins losing streak

The Bruins have lost four games in a row, but it’s not exactly panic city for the Black and Gold. Nor should it be after their torrid month of October with things now coming back to reality. Certainly the schedule is catching up with the B’s, injuries are playing a role and they may just be getting a little tired after last season’s run until mid-June.

It all means they aren’t going to romp wire-to-wire this year and that there are weaknesses to be exploited on the B’s roster. These are things realistic fans already knew going in, so don’t expect too many frenzied, breathless demands that half the team be traded, benched or sent back down to Providence at this point.

Still, there is some frustration from the Bruins fans in this week’s Hagg Bag. As always these are real questions from real fans on twitter using the #HaggBag hash tag, real messages to my NBCS Facebook fan page and real emails to my jhaggerty@nbcuni.com email address.

Now on to the Hagg Bag:

Hagg bag,

Do you see McAvoy developing into an offensive star? He has the ability to become the future top D-man on the B's, however if he continues down the road to be a pass first guy, will he achieve that status?

--Brian A (@fouronorr)

JH: It’s a great question and it’s one I’ll be investigating further this weekend after talking to McAvoy and some other Bruins. But for the Hagg Bag, I would say the jury is still out on exactly how impactful he will be as an offensive player anytime soon. Certainly it’s going to be difficult if he doesn’t simply shoot the puck. McAvoy has only 20 shots on goal in 18 games this season, and that’s not nearly enough for a player of his skill set, ability and potential impact when it comes to creating offense.

There was a perfect example on Tuesday night’s loss to Florida when he passed up a shooting lane in overtime to dish the puck off to David Pastrnak in the face-off circle. It might be the proper play given the situation and the personnel on the ice, but you’d like to see McAvoy simply rip it, or take it to the net, with a little more frequency to keep defenses guessing as to what he’s going to do.

I think McAvoy will be a capable offensive D-man and could become an even bigger force if he ever gained entry to the top power-play unit, but I’m just not sure he’s ever going to be the 10-goal, 50-point guy that Torey Krug has developed into over the years. That development would be made tougher by his defensive responsibilities with Zdeno Chara against other team’s top lines.

Long answer short, he needs to shoot the puck more if he wants to be the true No. 1 defenseman he aspires to be.

Hi Joe -

We know that the Perfection Line has carried the team to where they are at now, but realistically, the B's really don't have any depth past this line. I really don't see this team getting anywhere near last year's success. It'll be tough to get in just as a wild card!

I would like to see Krug packaged with [Peter] Cehlarik and traded for someone that can put pucks in the net NOW vs. the trade deadline. I think both Moore and Miller can also be used as bargaining chips. Clifton has played well and is much speedier, and in my opinion has surpassed both of these players. I also think Vaakanainen can be called up on a permanent basis with the B's.

Cheers, Art

JH: Do you really think Peter Cehlarik has much trade value? I’m not sure that he does after he was bypassed by every team when he was waived and sent down to Providence. I also don’t think John Moore or Kevan Miller have any trade value at all until they return from injury and show other teams they are healthy. On top of that, Moore is in the second year of a five-year contract. I don’t see other teams getting in on that at this point either.

Honestly, I’d rather have a healthy Kevan Miller in the lineup over Connor Clifton because the Bruins could use a little more thump and toughness on the back end. Clifton hasn’t exactly been ironclad defensively over the last few weeks either. I have wondered whether his play dipped because everybody knows moves are coming on the back end once Miller and Moore regain good health and are ready to play.

I’m really curious to see how Matt Grzelcyk and Charlie McAvoy play with Torey Krug out of the lineup for the next few games. If they step up and show that the Bruins aren’t going to miss a beat offensively or on special teams, then you might be on to something. But I still think they’d be better served keeping Krug, trading for another Marcus Johansson-type at the trade deadline and then potentially going out to find a long-term solution this coming summer either via trade or free agency.

The Bruins should hire Don Cherry.

--Kevork Kasparian (@KasparianKevork)

JH: I don’t think Don Cherry needs the work. He’s 85 years old and he had a great run on Hockey Night in Canada. I was always a fan and I selfishly wish he was still on Coach’s Corner because I enjoyed watching him talk hockey. Hopefully Grapes sticks around the game as a personality who's still very much needed, but also does exactly what he wants to do rather than feel the need to come up with what’s next following his firing.

I think the Bruins are probably happy to not be involved in the controversy on any level because the league’s “Hockey is for Everyone” initiative flies in the face of Cherry’s comments from last weekend. Nobody has any issue with Cherry supporting the troops. Everybody in this day and age should have an issue with him singling out immigrants in his comments.

How do you see the salary cap situation sorting itself out with the return of Miller and Moore?

--RN

JH: This is difficult to predict since we can’t see what kind of injuries await them over the next month. Do we even know what’s going on with David Backes and whether he’s anywhere close to playing anytime soon? If he becomes a candidate for LTIR, then that opens up a lot of additional cap space for the Bruins even after Moore and Miller are healthy enough to return.

Right now Moore and Miller make up $5.25 million in cap space off the books on injured reserve and Backes’ cap hit is $6 million. So that’s an almost even trade if that’s what ends up happening, but the Bruins will also have to clear out a couple of defensemen contracts at the NHL level as well, so it’s tough to tell exactly how it will happen.

I’d guess Moore is still a couple of weeks away from a return at this point, so there isn’t a real rush to figure this out currently. We shall see.

What would the Bruins need to give up for Taylor Hall. Would it be worth it?

--Mike Wasyluk (@michaelwasyluk)

JH: A first-round pick. A solid prospect at left wing or defense. I’m just not sure it’s going to happen based on the cap gymnastics and whether or not the Bruins have the kind of prospects that would get something like this done. They’d be better off waiting until the offseason and signing him as a free agent if Hall is truly who they targeted as their top-6 improvement plan moving forward.

Haggs,

No doubt, David Pastrnak is a great player, but his biggest problem is losing the puck.  He often loses the puck coming into the zone, and along the boards he almost never comes up with it.

My suggestion is to have [Patrice] Bergeron, [Brad] Marchand and [David] Krejci work with him along the boards...just over and over. [Just] have them go to the boards with Pasta and fight for the puck.  Those would be three great mentors and Pasta would certainly learn something.

Thanks, Rick Stark

JH: David Pastrnak was on a pace to score 50 goals last season before he got hurt. He’s on pace to score 70 goals and 140 points this season. He leads the NHL in goals scored. I don’t need him to be the Ultimate Warrior along the boards. Maybe he can teach guys like Danton Heinen, Anders Bjork and Jake DeBrusk how to score goals like him instead? Just a thought.

Could be better in puck battles and more staunch along the boards? He certainly could, but I also think he’s come a long way in these departments from where he was as the youngest guy in the NHL at 18 years old. Don’t you? He’s still only 23 and just tapping into his highest ceiling as a player, so perhaps this will happen without the remedial lessons from 37, 63 and 46.

With the dearth of immediate NHL forward prospects, should the B's kick the tires on bringing back Koko from the KHL?

--Rich Coveney (@coves121)

JH: The guy has never scored 20 goals in the KHL, and has six goals and 15 points in 25 games for Moscow Spartak this season. Can we stop pretending that players over in Russia are some secret weapon that are going to come here and address all of Boston’s needs? He had some chances while he was here to establish himself and always appeared to me to be a guy that wasn’t strong enough — or fast enough — to get it done at the NHL level.

The merely okay numbers in the NHL would seem to back that up. There are better options for the Bruins within their own organization and there certainly will be better options at the trade deadline for another Marcus Johansson-type acquisition at this year’s deadline.

Where do B's rank in Joe Haggerty's NHL Power Rankings?>>>>>

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Bruce Cassidy says Bruins need to be 'better defensively' to snap losing streak

Bruce Cassidy says Bruins need to be 'better defensively' to snap losing streak

TORONTO — The Bruins aren’t necessarily going to change anything with their offensive philosophies based on the major amount of injuries that have hit their roster over the last few weeks. But the influx of Providence players combined with the offensive firepower of Torey Krug and Jake DeBrusk missing for the lineup has taken a toll on Boston’s goal-scoring capabilities, and that can hurt when the Bruins defense has allowed 15 goals (3.75 goals per game) over their current four-game losing stretch.

Certainly, that’s less of a problem with all of their offensive weapons healthy and operational, but it’s still something they were doing much better in October when it comes to defending and stopping pucks at the net.

It’s about fewer risky offensive chances for their defensemen trying to join the rush, and it’s about a better penalty kill after that special teams unit sprung a leak over the last week. That doesn’t mention the goaltending, but that could also stand to be much, much better with Rask starting vs. the Leafs and struggling through the month of November to this point.

“We just become less of a threat with that third line where it’s just ‘go out and check well and hopefully you get rewarded.’ We’ll see how [Trent Frederic] fits in there. We try not to change too much, but what we do need to do is be better defensively,” said Bruce Cassidy, who was acknowledging that the third line probably isn’t going to be a big offensive threat right now with Frederic, Par Lindholm and Danton Heinen filling it out. “We were for 40 minutes the other night [against Florida] until it completely fell apart. So that will be our goal tonight. We’re missing some guys that could typically help us at one end and so that’s our approach in that regard [on defense].”

Patrice Bergeron didn’t see it as a change of mindset for the B’s to get more conservative while missing their top-goal scorer behind the Perfection Line, and missing their top offensive defenseman in Krug. Instead it’s simply a return to the style of play that brought them tremendous success in the first month of the season, and what they did in allowing just 12 shots on net through the first 40 minutes against Florida before there were soft goals aplenty in the third period.

“It always comes back to playing the right way, having good defensive layers and a good forecheck. When you start moving forward and playing north/south, that’s when you get the most success and that’s when things open up to make the tougher plays,” said Bergeron. “Even when everybody is in the lineup, I think that is how we’re successful.

“We’ve been at our best when we don’t force things and let the play come to us, and have layers defensively. Then you can go back on the attack and do the damage. Obviously when you’re missing key guys it’s about everybody bringing it, being ready to play and our depth, and how important it is to rely on everybody in this locker room.”

Now would be the best time for the Bruins to snap back into place defensively as they travel to Toronto for a Friday night showdown with the rival Maple Leafs, and play more like the team that still ranks fourth in the NHL averaging just 2.50 goals per game allowed this season.

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