Bruins

Hagg Bag Mailbag: Digging through the Bruins' first week of the season

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Hagg Bag Mailbag: Digging through the Bruins' first week of the season

It’s another hockey season and that means another year’s worth of Hagg Bag mailbag to keep us both entertained for the year. With the season just a couple of games old, we don’t have a ton to go on about this season’s Black and Gold. But they are 2-0-0 with enough offense, strong goaltending and a pretty good all-around game that sees them able to beat opponents both good and bad.

With that in mind, it’s certainly far from an angry Bruins fan base to start the season off with the team on the West Coast and winning hockey games. Give them some time to air their grievances, but for now it’s a happy, shiny Hagg Bag mailbag.

As always these are real questions from real fans sent to my twitter handle using the #HaggBag hash tag, emails to my jhaggerty@nbcuni.com email account and messages sent to the NBCS Facebook fan page. Now, on to the bag:

Joe,

Why can the Bruins not find a solution to filling the right wing position on Krejci’s line? I know it was going to be Rick Nash if he hadn’t retired, but that was two years ago. I like Kuhlman but he isn’t the solution. Would love to see Bjork or Heinen on the first line and drop Pasta to the 2nd line. The Perfection Line gets lots of reps on the PP, so why not move things around a bit?

--David Sheedy

JH: I think we will see that at points throughout the season, David. Obviously, the Rick Nash thing didn’t pan out the way they hoped due to the concussion issues, and they haven’t found a permanent solution since then. You could also make the argument that signing David Backes was a planned attempt to fill that spot as well, but Krejci and Backes have never really found that permanent chemistry to keep them together.

So the Bruins get Karson Kuhlman for now, who certainly looks like a bottom-6 winger with a little offensive upside to my eyes. I think the Bruins have decided they want Anders Bjork on the left side, so putting him up with the top line isn’t something they’re really keen on doing that. Ditto with Heinen, who is on the left side on the third line as well right now.

They may give Brett Ritchie a few looks on the top line, freeing Pastrnak up to man that second line with Krejci, but I don’t think we’re going to see it for an extended look until the Bruins bring in another legit top-6 right wing. Maybe that’s a kid in development or somebody they trade for leading up to the deadline à la Marcus Johansson, but I suspect we’ll see a whole lot of the Perfection Line until they find another truly capable top-6 right wing option. Kuhlman is going to have to prove it to me before I’m going to believe he’s the guy.

[The Bruins] look like a more physical team, but is there enough offense?

--howie (@depo99)

JH: It’s two games into the season, so it’s not really time to dig too deeply into anything. Now if they have to scratch and scrape for goals again Tuesday night in Vegas? Then it might be time to start asking some questions. They also haven’t played any of the big, bad teams in the NHL yet either, so let’s see how they fare against them.

#HaggBagg The Bruins seem to be very high on Heinen but I don't see it, what are your thoughts on him?

--Jimmy McDonough (@jimdunna)

JH: I don’t necessary think they are high on Danton Heinen as much as the Bruins want to see his development through to see what kind of player he becomes at the NHL level. Is he a finished product at 24 years old? I don’t think so, but he’s also a guy who's averaged 14 goals and 40 points over his first couple of NHL seasons. He’s got skill, he’s smart, he’s responsible as a two-way guy and he’s still relatively cheap with an upside. They will continue to see if they can find a way to unlock more from him as a player. If it’s not there, then they have a pretty good third-line player for the next couple of years and they will move on from him when the time comes, and his price tag outweighs what he’s bringing to the table. I can safely say this: If a young guy like Jakub Lauko clearly outplays Heinen, then the Bruins will find a way to get the better young player up to Boston, and they will find a way to move on from Heinen.

Joe,

Just saw your NHL Power Rankings. The Canadiens missed the playoffs by just two points, they finished at 15 in your power rankings last year, they have the same young team that's matured a year, and you now have them at 27. Huh?

--Jim Kislinsky

JH: Those were the NHL Power Rankings right after the July 1 free agency period, big Jim. I was punishing Marc Bergevin and the Canadiens for that ridiculous offer sheet attempt with Sebastian Aho. In truth, the Habs look like a borderline playoff team to me this season and should be around 15-20 to start this season.

Are you concerned about A: Halak eventually taking Rask’s job and B: Fred’s poor bowel habits? #haggbagg

--charliework (@millburysshoe)

JH: Who is Fred? And the only bowel habits that I’m concerned about are my two kids. Everybody else’s poor bowel habits are between them and their respective bathrooms. I don’t think Jaroslav Halak will overtake Tuukka Rask for his job completely, but I think he will again push Rask for playing time and force him to be on-point during the regular season.

My question is this: Can we go back in a time-travel machine à la "Avengers: Endgame" and allow Halak to take Rask’s job for Game 7 against St. Louis a few months back? Is that possible? Too soon?

Change my mind: We should trade Vaakanainen, +2 other prospects (pick your poison Senyshyn, Zboril, Bjork, Frederic) for a legit 2nd line Winger. #haggbagg

--Roger Goodell (@rg_haterarde69)

JH: I don’t think we’re going to see Urho Vaakanainen traded because the Bruins know they’re going to need left-side help given that Zdeno Chara is 42 years old, and both Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk are free agents following this season. Vaakanainen will likely be needed to step up for somebody rather quickly depending on the circumstances, and I also think the young D-man is just scratching the surface of what he can do as an NHL defenseman.

A more interesting scenario to keep in mind: The Bruins go through this season and decide that Charlie McAvoy, Grzelcyk and Vaakanainen are developing to the point where they consider trading Krug before losing him as a free agent. Could they bring in a top-6 winger if they package Krug along with a prospect or two going the other way? Possibly.

Good Afternoon Haggs

Read your roster 2.0 projection and have been watching the preseason games and I agree on most of your projections but I am going out on a bit of a limb and say Jeremy Lauzon stays (or should) over Kampfer. For a couple reasons:

1. I don't think he will get claimed on waivers and with recent signing of Petrovic to a two-way deal (provided he clears) you still have veteran depth if he does.

2. Big Zee could probably use a breather and not play a full 82. Lauzon gets worked in for 35-45 games between resting Z and injuries.

3. We have to see what these kids got and start integrating them into the team. Prospects tend to lose value after 3 or 4 years and are no longer prospects. Vaakanainen and Axel Andersson are still young, Jakub Zboril and Lauzon are running out of time.

4. I like Lauzon's grit and he is a left shot which is where we will need to build with Zee's age and Krug's contract situation. Right side is set for the next few years at least.

One thing the Red Wings were very good at in their heyday was implementing youth and not growing stale. [They were] never afraid to move on from a player before it was too late. I also like the way [Oskar] Steen has played. He is pushing, but I think Bjork and Kuhlman get first kick at the can.

Looking forward to the real season. 

Cheers

DJ Lund

London Ontario

JH: Obviously the roster was set and it included Steve Kampfer and Karson Kuhlman while Jeremy Lauzon, Vaakanainen, Zboril and Bjork started out in Providence. I’m not sure I see Lauzon up with the big club in Boston unless injuries hit the Bruins in a big way, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Vaakanainen get the first call if a left shot guy is needed even after a “meh” training camp from him.

I just wanted to include DJ’s email because he put plenty of good thoughts in there, and they shouldn’t be lost just because the roster projections are now in hindsight.

The bottom line with Kampfer is that the Bruins want a veteran who can sit for long stretches, play either side and be effective in a pinch-hitting role when they need him. It’s a tough gig and Kampfer has proven that he’s capable of doing it. That’s value for a 7th defenseman.

#HaggBag thoughts on taking a chance on Ho Sang

--HARTMANN (@HARTMAN81060112)

JH: My thoughts are “hard pass.” If the Bruins were interested in him they would have made a claim on him when he was placed on waivers by the Islanders. He’s a skilled forward, but he’s also been a problem pretty much the entire time he’s been in their organization. I don’t think the Bruins really need that at this point even if he would be an interesting right wing candidate. There’s still question whether or not he’s even an NHL player based on the numbers he’s put up at the AHL level, and there’s definitely question as to whether he’s a top-6 guy at the NHL level.

Hey Joe,

Extended post season let down is a thing backed by stats. What can the Bruins do to avoid this and break this trend from happening to them?

Thanks,

Brian

JH: Hey Brian. They’re doing plenty to combat the “Stanley Cup Final hangover” as it were. They ratcheted things down in the preseason while playing six games instead of the customary eight exhibition games. They brought along many of their veteran regulars very slowly with guys like Torey Krug and Patrice Bergeron not even getting into games until late in training camp. They’ve kept 42-year-old Zdeno Chara under 20 minutes of ice time in each of the first two regular season games played thus far. They will continue to do as much as they can to balance “load management” and make sure guys like Chara and Bergeron aren’t overworked prior to the postseason.

But the numbers are the numbers, and the Bruins know they are going to “hit a wall” at some point during the regular season, as I wrote about a few days ago. The hope is that the true organizational depth, the elite level of their core group and the NHL’s best goaltending duo in Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak will keep them from digging themselves too much of a hole.

Will they have enough in the tank come playoff time? That’s the million dollar question and there’s really no way of knowing until they get there. But recent history over the last 10-15 years says that the Bruins don’t have much real hope of getting back to the Cup Final again this season if they’re being realistic. They can hope they are the outlier, but they are called outliers because they are the exception rather than the norm.

Five bold Bruins predictions for 2019-20 season>>>>>

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Haggerty: These blown leads are becoming a plague for the Bruins

Haggerty: These blown leads are becoming a plague for the Bruins

PITTSBURGH — If it happened once or twice, it could be shrugged off as a coincidence.

But the Bruins have blown three-goal leads three times this season, including two in the last week alone. That gives them one of the NHL's worst records when leading after two periods, with seven losses already this season.

To put Sunday's 4-3 loss at Pittsburgh in perspective, the Bruins went into the contest 200-1-6 since 2010-11 in games where they’d held a three-goal lead. 

It came down to a couple different things on Sunday, but you can start with their sloppy second period. They basically did nothing for the first 10 minutes coming out of the first intermission. That opened the door for everything that followed.

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First, Sidney Crosby made a couple of All-World plays to set up goals and get the Penguins back in the game. Then, it came down to the Bruins dooming themselves with mistakes, allowing two more goals without any offensive response. 

On the third goal, their top power-play unit stayed out on the ice far too long, and a gassed Brad Marchand couldn’t catch Jack Johnson as the trailer unloaded a shorthanded bomb. Then in the third, Evgeni Malkin stripped Charlie McAvoy behind the Boston net and set up Bryan Rust for the Penguins' game-winner.

To a man, the Bruins said it wasn’t about taking the foot off the gas pedal. Instead, they pointed to mistakes made while crediting Pittsburgh for pushing back.

“It’s typically how does it happen? We saw some poor defending and some poor goaltending in Philly, and tonight it was more of the same to be honest with you,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “Not so much on the goalie. They were good goals. But we get beat off the wall and the last one I can’t tell you what happened to be honest with you.

“I saw them bump their urgency up. The goals we are giving up against a good team…what is it a lack of focus? Do we lose our urgency? Because they are gifts a little bit. You can get outplayed by good teams, and you will in stretches. But these were gifts today.”

But it sure feels like the mind-numbing results fly in the face of their denials. Instead, something feels inherently wrong with a team that consistently plays down to the worst teams in the league, and seems to ease up once they build a comfortable lead. Those are the kinds of team traits that don’t go away as things get more challenging, and will certainly crop up when things are heightened. It’s also a shocking development for a Bruins team that’s been very good at closing out other teams over the years.

“We just need to bear down and you can’t just have a good effort and be satisfied with that, and then come back in the next game and just play for half of a game or whatever that was,” said Patrice Bergeron, who scored his 21st goal of the season and won 20-of-25 face-offs. “We need to take it upon ourselves. We all need to take responsibility and be accountable for how we’re able to play in this locker room.

“It’s one of those games where we’re playing a good team and they’re going to give you a push, but you can’t let that go by. It’s a 3-0 and you know there’s a lot of game left, so you need to play the right way and keep pushing in order to increase that lead.”

The good news for the Bruins is that they still have a half-season to figure things out. But it also makes one wonder if something has to change from the outside to improve things for a Bruins team that's almost the same as last season’s Stanley Cup finalist.

It remains to be seen what’s going to right the ship, or if it will ever get righted at all. But the list of problems is growing for a Bruins team that can’t live off its early-season success for much longer.

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Bruins don't expect David Backes to retire after demotion to AHL

Bruins don't expect David Backes to retire after demotion to AHL

David Backes was waived by the Boston Bruins late last week. The statement move to demote the veteran Bruin was part of two critical changes that the B's made to their team. The other was waiving fellow enforcer and physical forward Brett Ritchie.

After Backes' demotion, there was some speculation that the 14-year veteran may opt to retire instead of playing in the AHL for the Providence Bruins. But according to Bruins president Cam Neely, Backes hasn't indicated that he will do that.

"I don’t think he has a mindset of retirement," said Neely per Kevin Paul Dupont of The Boston Globe. "He’s a very proud man, and a professional. I still have the feeling he thinks he can help, so we’ll see where it goes from here."

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This isn't altogether surprising. Backes may be holding out hope that he'll get another chance to play moving forward if he can prove himself in the AHL. 

Backes turns 36 in May, but hockey players often have long careers. So, it's possible that Backes could find a role as a veteran depth piece for another team. It'll just be on a deal much cheaper than the five-year, $30 million deal he signed with the Bruins back in the 2016 offseason.

That said, it's worth noting that Backes has had concussion issues in recent seasons. So that could impact his decision-making moving forward.

In 16 games this season, Backes had just one goal and two assists for the Bruins. He'll take some time off before joining the Providence Bruins later this month.