Bruins

Haggerty: Despite big moves by rivals, Bruins need to stick to the plan

Haggerty: Despite big moves by rivals, Bruins need to stick to the plan

The simple fact is that the Bruins' standing in their own division has worsened to this point in the summer and it might get even worse over the next weeks and months even as the B’s minimally improved as a team.

The Bruins are better than they were at the end of the playoffs by virtue of the additions of backup goaltender Jaroslav Halak and defenseman John Moore and landing a legit top-six impact winger would make it a more drastic improvement to their roster makeover.

Still, there’s no denying that the Maple Leafs have pushed closer to Stanley Cup contender status with the addition of free-agent superstar John Tavares, and could really get there if they can ever acquire, or develop, a No. 1 defenseman. Regardless of their standing league-wide, the Leafs are clearly much improved from the team that the Bruins barely eked by in seven games in the first round of the playoffs.

Then there’s the Tampa Bay Lightning, who dispatched the Bruins in five games in the second round and are now getting close to landing Erik Karlsson, which would give them Victor Hedman, Karlsson, Ryan McDonagh and Anton Stralman to start with on their back end. That puts them far ahead of a Bruins team they already dispatched if they can pull off the improbable and get Karlsson and make them a legit contender for the term “NHL super team.”

The thought of Hedman and Karlsson in the same Tampa D-corps conjures up memories of Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer dominating with the Anaheim Ducks and would immediately vault them into Cup favorites. So, there’s a realistic scenario for next season where the Bruins could be the third best team in the NHL and still wind up the third best team in the Atlantic Division with a first-round playoff date of doom against the Lightning.

So what are the Black and Gold to do about this?

Well, what they shouldn’t do is rashly try to join the arms race that Tampa and Toronto have escalated this summer.

Certainly, Bruins GM Don Sweeney should keep pushing talks forward to acquire a top-six offensive impact player whether it’s Jeff Skinner, Artemi Panarin or somebody off the beaten path that hasn’t been readily discussed. But that’s all part of the offseason plan already in place and would include trading chips that the B’s have already reconciled with giving up in the right trade whether it's Torey Krug, a prospect such as Anders Bjork or another high draft pick after dealing their first-rounder last spring.

What the Bruins should not do is alter the plan to try and hit a home run trade to match Tavares or Karlsson.

What the Bruins should not do, under any circumstances, is think about trading Charlie McAvoy or Jake DeBrusk, who could be in the Bruins organization for the next ten years. It might even mean (though it wouldn't be ideal) not landing their top-six target ahead of the season and instead getting a look at their young players before making an impact move during the season. 

The B’s don’t need a panic move or a reactionary transaction simply designed to keep up with Toronto and Tampa. Those kinds of motives behind trades or free-agent signings almost always backfire on the team that’s getting desperate.  

“You’re juggling a few things [during the offseason], but you get through. You have contingency plans. All our staff, and I’m grateful for them, everybody worked hard [at the open of free agency], and all of the plans and all of the situations we had, the ownership was certainly supportive of what we are trying to accomplish,” said Sweeney. “Hopefully we move forward as a better team.”

It’s clear that the Lightning are loading up to win this season and then GM Steve Yzerman will have to answer the difficult questions later, like “how in the hell will Tampa afford Karlsson’s next contract where he wants $11 million per year?”

The Bruins are still building and doing it the right way. They posted a 112-point season while pushing Tampa Bay in the regular season, and they got some very valuable postseason experience for their young guys while winning a Game 7. Right now, the Bruins are an intriguing mix of young (20-year-old McAvoy) and old (Zdeno Chara will be 42 this season) that should absolutely be a playoff team and should be one of the contenders in an Eastern Conference that’s going to pack some punch next season.

The structure that Cam Neely and Sweeney are building in Boston could see the B's consistently competitive for the next 10 years with McAvoy and David Pastrnak leading the way. The Bruins just need to stick to the plan rather than getting overwhelmed by Toronto/Tampa’s shock and awe show this summer. By all accounts, that’s exactly what the Bruins are doing right now even as the road has clearly grown more treacherous and difficult for the Black and Gold next season.

Sometimes sticking to the plan can grow difficult when all manner of things are happening all around you, but that’s exactly what the Bruins should do even as their closest rivals are taking big home-run swings.  

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Stempniak, Winnik face uphill battle for Bruins roster spot

Stempniak, Winnik face uphill battle for Bruins roster spot

BRIGHTON, Mass – It was a little surprising when there were no veteran tryouts originally announced for the Bruins training camp roster a couple of weeks ago. That changed quickly when the two groups were split into those 23 players making the trip to China and those sticking behind in Boston, as the B’s also announced that veteran NHL forwards Daniel Winnik and Lee Stempniak would be in camp with the Black and Gold.

Both players have had long, solid NHL careers with a litany of teams after starring for New England college hockey programs, Stempniak with Dartmouth and Winnik with UNH, and both players are now veterans that will need to sing for their NHL supper in training camp. The 35-year-old Stempniak is obviously a familiar face having played for the Black and Gold a couple of seasons ago, and being a regular captain’s practice attendee given his permanent Boston residence.

Stempniak is coming off a tough season where injuries limited him to just 37 games with the Carolina Hurricanes with three goals and nine points, and the way things played out made things even more difficult. Stempniak was injured in training camp and then fractured his collarbone just minutes into his first game on a rehab stint, and that put him in futile catch-up mode for the rest of the season.

Given the way things ended for Stempniak last year it’s easy to see why he’s on a PTO looking for a job this season, but Stempniak is just happy to be healthy and making his preseason debut on Tuesday night for the Bruins.

“Last year was a tough one for me,” admitted Stempniak. “I got hurt in camp, got injured when I came back for rehab and didn’t even get into a game with Carolina until the middle of January. I just never felt like I was able to catch up to where everybody else was at that point, and you really just don’t feel like a part of the team in the first few months of the season when you’re coming back from injuries.

“I feel good now and last season is behind me now, so I come in here with a good chance to show what I can do. That’s all you can really ask for.”

Given his experience playing the right wing with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand during his last stint with the B’s, Stempniak provides Boston with a steady, solid and productive alternative if all of their young options aren’t ready for prime time. It may very well not play out that way for Stempniak with players like Ryan Donato and Danton Heinen off to strong starts, but the comfortable situation with Boston should put the veteran in a good spot to show other NHL teams what he can do as well.

“It’s great to be in a place where you know the people in the organization and there’s plenty of familiarity with the players,” said Stempniak. “There’s the added benefit of living here as well, so this was just a really good fit for me when I was looking for a spot in a training camp. Given how last season went I’m not all that surprised to be coming in on a PTO, and now it’s just about working hard and competing for a job.”

It’s a bit of a different story for Winnik, who is coming off a solid season as a bottom-6 forward with the Minnesota Wild and showed he can still play at a high level last season. The 33-year-old had six goals and 23 points in 81 games, had a plus-5 rating and provided the versatility of playing both left wing and center in a third or fourth line role. He’s had to go the PTO route a couple of times in recent seasons, so it wasn’t a big shock to come to Boston competing for an energy line spot with guys like Noel Acciari, Sean Kuraly, Chris Wagner, Joakim Nordstrom and others that already hold guaranteed NHL deals with the Black and Gold.

Winnik had a decent debut with the B’s on Sunday afternoon when he finished with a couple of shots on net, won more than 50 percent of his draws and showed his penalty kill abilities while playing with the B’s group that stayed behind in Boston.

“Last year I was on a PTO, so it’s similar to that. But even in year’s past I feel like I’ve always had to establish myself on the roster no matter how firm I might be set by a contract. There were always young guys trying to take my position,” said Winnik. “Signing with the Bruins would obviously be the best case for me. We’ll see how it goes. I thought I was off to a good start in that last game.

“I think it’s the way the league is going that PTO’s are just becoming more popular. I don’t know how many guys are on them this season, but in year’s past there have been tons of guys in camps on PTO’s, and they’re all well-established guys that are third or fourth line players like myself. For older guys it’s harder to get jobs these days.”

The bottom line is this for both veteran players: It’s going to take injuries and under-performance from younger players to open up an NHL roster spot for either Stempniak or Winnik to start the regular season. 

Noel Acciari, Torey Krug make their on-ice debuts at B's training camp

Noel Acciari, Torey Krug make their on-ice debuts at B's training camp

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins got one step closer to full health in training camp on Monday as both Noel Acciari and Torey Krug returned to action with the early group skating at TD Garden. Both Acciari (sports hernia) and Krug (fractured ankle) skipped the first few days of training camp along with Patrice Bergeron (back spasms/groin surgery), and didn’t play in Boston’s preseason matinee vs. the Washington Capitals on Sunday afternoon.

Acciari and Krug were both out on the ice for about 20 minutes or so during the near hour-long morning session, so it looks like each player is making steady progress with an eye on getting into the lineup at the end of preseason.

“It was good to be back with the group and to be back in practice form, so it was a good step there,” said Acciari, who snapped home a career-high 10 goals in 60 games as a fourth line banger for the B’s last season. “It’s night and day with how I felt last year [playing through injury] and how I feel right now, so I’m excited for the season and jumping back in with the guys to get ready for games.”

Krug likewise has been on a deliberate rehab progression just as he was last fall coming off a shoulder surgery, but feels like he’s making progress to be ready when he needs to be for the Oct. 3 opener against the Washington Capitals.

“It was good to just get the timing back, anticipate some drills and just being out there with the guys is a lot of fun,” said Krug. “It felt good. It’s kind of the same as last week to stay on the course, the plan with our schedule, and just kind of do the same thing. I’ll probably do [shorter stints in practice] for another day or two and see how I feel, and take it day-by-day.”

Bruins youngster Ryan Fitzgerald was missing from Monday’s practice group with a nagging injury after playing in Sunday’s matinee against the Capitals, and Bergeron remains off the ice with the plan still for him to get into some exhibition game action at the end of the preseason.