Bruins

With the Pats officially done, the Bruins are well worth your attention

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With the Pats officially done, the Bruins are well worth your attention

BRIGHTON, Mass – After dutifully playing the second or third fiddle for most of this winter with little fanfare or hype surrounding their hockey club, it’s high time for the Boston Bruins to seize control of the Boston sports spotlight.

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Certainly they’ll need to share some of it with a Boston Celtics team that looks ready for prime time as well even without Gordon Hayward, but the painful sight of watching the New England Patriots fall short in Sunday’s Super Bowl just opens the door for the real hockey season starting right now.

Clearly the backstage drama of tension, real or perceived, between the Krafts, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will be a topic of conversation long after the vision of a thrown ball slipping through Tom Brady’s hands has dissipated.

But it becomes much more about the games at this point, and both the Bruins and Celtics are putting out one heck of a product.  

The Bruins are one of the biggest, best stories in the NHL this season with their intriguing mixture of established veteran Cup winners like Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and their seemingly endless wave of talented young guys like Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk, Matt Grzelcyk and Danton Heinen. But if you don’t believe this humble hockey writer, just look at some of the stupefying numbers they’re in the middle of producing. 

This is a Bruins team that’s gone 25-4-4 since benching Tuukka Rask for four games in mid-November. This is a Bruins team that’s gone a ridiculous 49-19-9 over the last year under Bruce Cassidy since memorably sacking Claude Julien on the morning of the Patriots Super Bowl celebration through Boston.

This is a hockey team well worth your attention while looking for the next winning lottery ticket in Boston’s pro sports landscape. They’re not the Big Bad Bruins of old or even the rough and tumble crew that hoisted the Cup back in 2011, but they have the most dominant forward trio in all of hockey with the Perfection Line of Brad Marchand (when he’s keeping his prominent nose out of trouble), Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak.

All three forwards are on pace to top 35 goals this season, and are a combined plus-55 on the season while looking like hockey’s version of the Harlem Globetrotters against defenders with no prayer of stopping them.

They are fourth in the league averaging 3.2 goals per game, and tops in the NHL allowing a piddling 2.4 goals per game. They do pretty much everything well, and even showed the kind of backbone and hardnosed approach in wins last week vs. St. Louis and Toronto that could be a harbinger of some very good things in April and May.

In other words, this Bruins team is for real and people aren’t going to want to be too much tardier hopping on the Black and Gold bandwagon. Or they might miss the next thing to come along after Brady and Co. came up short on Sunday.    

“Guys are obviously very competitive, we want to win every game and there were a lot of battles. You can see the guys were really stepping out of their comfort zone, skill guys making some big plays and determined to win the battles along the wall,” said Zdeno Chara. “Guys were physical, but also making plays…that is what you need from a [good hockey] team.”  

The Bruins are in prime position comfortably rooted in second place in the Atlantic Division, they just vanquished their closest competitor last weekend with a dominant 4-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs and they have a legit chance to overtake the struggling for Tampa Bay Lightning atop the Atlantic Division.

With just 32 games remaining in the regular season, this is when the regular season will be at its height and this is when the attention traditionally starting picking up for the Black and Gold anyway. If any borderline Bruins fans needed a true palate cleanser after the way Claude Julien’s last few groups disappointed in most every way, then this is it going on right now nightly on the TD Garden ice. 

“I think the intensity is only going to ramp up from here. The points – they’re important all year – but you start really seeing the teams, the numbers get crunched a little bit when you get into the latter part of the season,” said Adam McQuaid. “Everyone is playing and competing hard…it’s a fun time to be playing.”

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It’s also a fun time to be a fan of the Boston Bruins, and a fan of the Boston sports scene in general. Did you get your heart broken by the Patriots falling short in a highly entertaining Super Bowl shootout against Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles?

Well, just turn your attention to the Boston Bruins as the unquestioned best sports story of these winter months, and a hockey club fully worthy of your attention and admiration for the best still to come in this hockey season.

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Haggerty: NHL draft weekend a big dud for the Black and Gold

Haggerty: NHL draft weekend a big dud for the Black and Gold

DALLAS – There’s no way to sugarcoat it for the Boston Bruins, and competitive hockey guys like Don Sweeney and Cam Neely wouldn’t want that anyway.

The 2018 NHL Draft at the American Airlines Center netted the Bruins a few prospects and one in particular in Czech-born Jakub Lauko that has all the makings of a mid-round steal, but in just about every way draft weekend was a big, fat bust for the Black and Gold. 

The Bruins lost out to the Los Angeles Kings in the bidding for 35-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk when they understandably, and perhaps wisely, wouldn’t go to a three-year offer for a talented player that skipped town on his last NHL team. They weren’t able to engineer a package to entice the Carolina Hurricanes with defenseman Noah Hanifin and forward Elias Lindholm available in a blockbuster trade that could have answered both of Boston’s needs in one fell swoop.

Instead, Dougie Hamilton was traded from the Flames to the Hurricanes as the biggest piece in the trade, and for a second time in three years Sweeney watched Hamilton get moved while not able to land his “white whale”, a top-4 left shot D-man, in Hanifin.

With the July 1 opening of NHL free agency quickly approaching, the Bruins also don’t appear any closer to locking up backup goaltender Anton Khudobin at a key roster spot that absolutely needs to be addressed if Boston wants to be successful again next season. It’s much the same with Riley Nash, which means the Bruins could be looking at propping up a rookie third line center in the middle of their lineup next season.

To top it all off, the Bruins also didn’t have a pick in the opening night first round of the NHL Draft on Friday, a scenario that Sweeney himself called “excruciating” after watching the top 31 players get selected while his face was pressed up against the proverbial glass. 

So it wasn’t a very productive weekend for the Bruins, who certainly didn’t get any better at the NHL level as several other teams very clearly accomplished that goal. Certainly the Bruins seemed to feel pretty good about their chances for Kovalchuk at the start of this weekend, but they weren’t willing to go to a third year for a 35-year-old player that’s been stowed away in Russia for the last five seasons. Time will tell if that was the right call, but it’s always good business not to overpay for aging free agents in a salary cap world.  

“We put ourselves in a position to be considered,” said Sweeney, when asked about missing out on Kovalchuk after he’d agreed to a three-year, $18.75 million deal with the Kings. “West coast-East coast, you’d have to ask Ilya what ultimately swung things into LA’s favor. We thought it was a good fit and it didn’t work out. Ultimately, you move on to the next one.”

Now, the Bruins will move on as well to this week’s interview period ahead of NHL free agency and the July 1 open to the market where they may once again have a few balls up in the air. James van Riemsdyk may be a possibility on the free agent side as a power forward winger with size, net-front presence and plenty of productivity, but he’s clearly not going to come cheap after scoring a lot of goals with the Maple Leafs.

There is still a chance to swing a deal with the Hurricanes as well with winger Jeff Skinner potentially on the trade block as well for Carolina. The 26-year-old put up 24 goals and 49 points last season in Carolina, and has averaged 28 goals per season over the last five years with the Hurricanes. There are also the ongoing talks with Rick Nash about returning to the Bruins after last spring’s deadline deal, of course. But it’s also pretty clear the Bruins viewed Nash as a second tier option to Kovalchuk as a goal-scoring answer on their second line, and that doesn’t exactly ignite the excitement levels thinking about a possible return.

The one that could really come back to haunt the Bruins is the Hanifin/Lindholm package to the Flames that dropped midway through Saturday’s Day 2 of the draft in Dallas. It didn’t sound like the Bruins were heavily in the mix on that deal, but they certainly could have been competitive for it if they’d tailored a package around young NHL players like Brandon Carlo and Danton Heinen. Instead, Sweeney cautioned on Friday night that the Bruins were going to be very reluctant to move young NHL players that are still determining just how high their ceiling can be as Bruins. 

“We realize that we have some young players that have played just a year in the National Hockey League with some success. I’d like to continue to see how that unfolds. But [other GMs asking about B’s young players] is a good opportunity to see how other teams around the league view those players as well, and what maybe their market value is,” said Sweeney. “Yeah, there have been a lot of guys that have been intrigued. And I think we are as well. We’ve peeked under the covers a bit and we just want to make sure that if we make a move it’s for the absolute right reasons. 

“I want to make a good hockey trade if we go down that road. We’ve got good players and we’ve got good young players that have assumed roles, and hopefully, they just continue to grow.”

The Bruins certainly do have good, young players and they’ve got a pretty darn good hockey club that amassed 112 points in the regular season as well. But they also showed some pretty well-chronicled weaknesses that cropped up in the playoffs against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the bottom line is they got nothing accomplished in terms of addressing those at NHL Draft weekend.

The good news is that the Bruins have $12 million in cap space headed into free agency week, and there will be other opportunities both in trades and free agency.

But any way you slice it NHL draft weekend in Dallas was an acrid, empty dud for the Black and Gold, and that’s far from a good thing.

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Bruins trade target Hanifin traded to Calgary

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Bruins trade target Hanifin traded to Calgary

Former Boston College defenseman Noah Hanifin, a Bruins trade target who they once tried to trade up to get in the 2015 draft, has been traded from the Carolina Hurricanes to the Calgary Flames in a deal that includes former B's defenseman Dougie Hamilton going to Carolina.

The 'Canes sent center Eric Lindholm and Hanifin, both restricted free agents who rejected Carolina's most recent contract offers, to Calgary for Hamilton, winger Micheal Ferland and prospect defenseman Adam Fox, who was a third-round pick in 2016 now playing at Harvard,

The Bruins have a longstanding interest in Hanifin that goes back to their efforts to trade up for him in when he was the fifth overall pick three years ago. The Canes likely sought Bruins left winger Jake DeBrusk in the hefty package they were seeking for Hanifin. 

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