With two vastly different outcomes in the books, the Bruins are off and running in their regular season. Questions obviously still abound about how much this team is the one that rolled over and died against the Washington Capitals Opening Night and how much is the team that looked very sharp at both ends in a shutout win over the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night.
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Those questions aren’t going to get answered until we’re much deeper into the season, but we can answer questions of a different variety in our first Hagg Bag mailbag of the season. As always these are real questions from real readers and fans sent to my Twitter account using the #HaggBag hashtag, sent as messages to NBC Sports Boston Facebook fan page or as emails sent to my account, @JHaggerty@nbcuni.com
Now, let’s get on with the bag:
Coming into last season I thought Anders Bjork looked to actually be slightly ahead of Jake DeBrusk. Obviously, DeBrusk had a better season and a great playoff, but I still believe the player I saw, in Bjork looked like a top 6 forward. It was good to see him play in the second game of the season. I doubt they would keep him on the team if they weren't planning on giving him ice time. What kind of season do you think he will have, and do the Bruins still have him high in their organizational chart?
And give Tuuka break. No one showed up for the 1st game. He actually made a couple saves when it was 2-0 to give them a chance to get their legs under them.
JH: Hey John. Tuukka has had enough breaks over the years. I’m not here to cut anybody breaks. That’s not what I get paid to do. If Rask had been ready to go and the Bruins had managed to withstand that first-period onslaught without giving up a couple of goals, maybe things would have been different on Opening Night. I mean, maybe not obviously. But there’s a pattern of Rask being very shaky in these tone-setting type games and that was the case again vs. Washington before finally getting yanked in the second period.
As far as Anders Bjork goes, I like the skill and I like the speed. I think he’s an NHL player. But part of the reason DeBrusk managed to break through ahead of Bjork last season, besides overall health, was that he was a little more ready to do battle in the NHL after a season in Providence. Bjork hasn’t had that luxury despite spending some time in the AHL last season. I think an AHL stint could do him a lot of good based on how crowded things are up front for the Black and Gold.
If Donato keeps scoring, I’m just not sure where Bjork is going to push his way into the lineup unless Danton Heinen has a major regression, which I don’t see happening.
Do you think the Bruins will sign Stempniak?
--Keith Nessen (via Facebook)
JH: This all depends on how Donato and Heinen fare in their top-six auditions, and if Donato is able to play a good enough two-way game to at least be a third-line winger. Stempniak is some great veteran insurance in case of them falters and he showed in training camp that he can still put the puck in the net and play with skill guys.
Stempniak told me that he’s going to practice with the Bruins for a while and stick around in Boston waiting to see what happens and that there isn’t anything imminent with anybody else around the league. He wants to play for the Bruins and stay home with his young family in Boston. He can also most definitely still play in the league, so we’ll see what happens to him over the next month or six weeks while he stays in shape working out with the B’s.
Going forward will Bruce Cassidy and the Bruins management play the goalie that gives the team the best chance to win and not worry about the contract that was given to Tuukka Rask by the previous GM
--Kevin Blair (@kmblair13)
JH: At this point, I don’t think so. If Rask struggles for a few weeks and Jaro Halak plays lights out as he did against the Sabres on Thursday night? That could certainly change just as it did last season in November when the Bruins opted to play Anton Khudobin for four games in a row. The difference being that Halak could run with the job for a few weeks at a time if he gets hot instead of the very limited way Khudobin was ever going to supplant Rask. Still, I fully expect that Rask is going to get the start on Monday afternoon at the Garden, and I think there’s a pretty fair chance he could play well and put some distance on the opening night stink bomb in DC.
Should the Bruins light a fire under Tuukka by playing Halak?
--Mark Peters (@mpeters74)
JH: I think they are going to light a fire under Tuukka early and often by playing Halak quite a bit. Certainly the fire should be lit after Rask watched Halak stop 32 shots and play very well in the shutout win over Buffalo after he got shelled in Washington DC. In theory, this should get the best out of Rask, but I wonder if the real pressure on him by his goalie partner is going to end up doing the opposite for Boston’s No. 1 goalie. We’ll see. But as I said above, I don’t see Halak playing Monday afternoon.
Brad Marchand is unnecessary.
--Ryan L (@rluck135)
JH: Nah, dawg. That tweet was unnecessary. Brad Marchand is one of the best players in the NHL and an integral part of the Bruins.
Our top centers are getting older. Is there a plan to replace them? I don't see any of the young centers in the pipe with the offensive upside.
JH: Welp, Patrice Bergeron is signed for the next three seasons beyond this one and David Krejci is signed for another two seasons after the 2018-19 campaign. They’re both also making big bucks with a weighty cap hit, so the idea of replacing them isn’t something that’s going to happen in the short term. Is there a scenario where Bergeron or more likely Krejci would eventually drop down to a third-line center role to make room for another center? Sure, that might have happened if the Bruins had somehow signed John Tavares this summer, and it could eventually happen if any of Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Trent Frederic or Jack Studnicka eventually become a top-six pivot in the NHL.
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Of those three, I think Studnicka has the upside to be that kind of player. But your point is well taken that a star center is something the Bruins really don’t have in the prospect pipeline right now. Not many other teams do either, but it’s something they might do well to focus on in the draft with Bergeron and Krejci now well into their 30’s.
I've felt for some time now that the Bruins have an overabundance of legit young wingers in Boston and Providence (eg. Cehlarik, Bjork, Donato, Senyshyn, Heinen, Debrusk, Fitzgerald etc).
My question is what are the B's going to do with all these pieces, and when are we going to start to deal some of these guys for a bona fide 2nd line RW or D-man while they have value?
JH: Barring any serious injuries, I don’t think I see the Bruins dealing prospects for a defenseman at the trade deadline this season. But there’s a very plausible scenario where the Bruins could be in the market for a top-six sniper if both Heinen and Donato falter in their auditions for a top-six winger role alongside Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. If they need some offensive punch to really fortify that second line offensively, then it’s very realistic that some of that prospect currency you’re talking about will get moved for a player a la Rick Nash last season. The problem, as everybody saw with Nash last year, is that getting the seemingly right player at the deadline doesn’t always work out, or put that team over the top. So we’ll see, but I don’t see Donato, DeBrusk or maybe even Bjork as part of any trade packages unless it’s a major young talent coming in return.