The Eight Spoked Blog
Holiday Edition Part II
BREAKING: Bruins center David Krejci was seen today leaving the TD Garden with his arm in a sling. According to head coach Claude Julien, Krejci is considered “week-to-week” and will most certainly miss the Winter Classic. This is a big time blow for Boston, losers of their last two. As far as I'm concerned, Krejci is one of three "must have" players for the Bruins to be a quality playoff contender. More on this to come in The Eight Spoked Blog Winter Classic Preview...
Merry Christmas and Joyeux Noel hockey world! Here now is the much awaited finale of my 12 takes on The Boston Bruins season thus far. NOTE: This blog was written on 12/25 - a bit merrier of a time for the Bruins before having lost two in a row.
Buying and Selling
Since my last blog, the idea of whether the Bruins might buy or sell come 2016 has been rattling around in my head. I wanted to look further into what this all means for The Black and Gold.
Luckily for those of us who follow the club, Boston has officially given us a season. This club is right in the thick of the playoff mix and by all accounts should make the tournament come April. So logic dictates, the Bruins will be buyer's, right? It ultimately depends on the cost of adding talent.
This offseason, reports leaked that indicated Boston’s brass, led by President Cam Neely, capped then GM Peter Chiarelli’s ability to spend at the deadline: forbidding the use of first round picks to acquire any players. Couple that with the fluidity of the roster this summer, and it looks like a rebuild of sorts on Causeway St.
Then you look at the roster: David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron are in the peak years of their prime. Tuukka Rask and Brad Marchand are 28 and 27 respectively: just hitting their primes. And if Bruins executives hold out hope that captain Zdeno Chara, 38, can contribute to one more cup run for the club: it’s now or never.
So are the Bruins ready to sell out and go for it all now? No. The cost for for quality rental players usually amounts to first round picks. So, barring any blockbuster deals that see Boston adding long term, top end talent, I don’t look at this team and say “one piece away”, which would denote an all-in mentality from management.
Ultimately, one thing is now clear: the Bruins can no longer be sellers. There’s been a lot of talk surrounding pending UFA Loui Eriksson and his future. Headed into the year, he was perhaps the most obvious player Sweeney and the Bruins would move on from had the club disappointed in the first half of the season. The 30 year old winger has certainly done enough to keep the value high, amasing 28 points through 33 games. But what would this say to the room? ‘Great job guys, you’ve found a way to compete and a lot of you are your prime...but we’re still tearing it all down.’ That’s a terrible (see: unacceptable) look. There’s no way the Boston brass want that culture. There was never any point in hanging on to to coach Julien or, for that matter, not shopping Chara or Tuukka Rask (yeah, I said shop Tuukka) as pieces to bring back what would be needed for a full overhaul.
The Kids Are Alright
Boston’s roster saw its fair share of turnover heading into the 2015-2016 season. A slew of new faces have produced a mixed bag of returns. The most encouraging news headed into the new calendar seems to be coming from a pair of rookies. Winger Frank Vatrano and defenseman Colin Miller, who GM Don Sweeney acquired as part of a deal with Los Angeles for Milan Lucic.
Both of these rising talents have one thing in common: they can both shoot the hell out of the puck. Vatrano, the 21 year old U-Mass Amherst product, has an incredibly fast release and a wicked wrister, reminiscent of one Brad Marchand - no.72 recorded his first NHL hat-trick against the floundering Pittsburgh Penguins this week, bringing his season totals to 5 goals and 6 points in 19 games playing a mix of top six and bottom six minutes.
Miller, 23, spent the past two seasons in Manchester, NH playing for the Monarchs in the LA Kings system and last year, recorded the hardest shot at the AHL all-star game. That was no fluke, either. Miller can flat out tee off on the puck from the point. He’s a phenomenal skater as well and uses his top end speed and agility to his advantage. Colin has spent a few games up on the 9th floor to gain some perspective and learn exactly how to think the game at the highest level. He’s still very green, but is no doubt a cornerstone type player on the back end for Boston moving into the future. His ceiling is really, really high. No. 47 has 12 points and a +6 rating 27 games into his rookie campaign.
Chicken Parm - The Next Generation
It’s worth shouting out about new Bruin Landon Ferraro. I love this guy’s game. The son of former NHLer Ray "Chicken Parm" Ferraro came to Boston via a savvy waiver wire claim by Don Sweeney. Sweeney snatched up the 24 year old forward away from divisional counterpart Detroit in late November.
The return was immediate: Ferraro has seven points in 14 games so far with Boston, and more over has provided a consistent, hard working presence the Bruins lineup. No. 29 delivers shift after shift of gritty, intelligent hockey, helping to fill the void left by the injured veteran staple Chris Kelly (IR - broken leg).
The epitome of Ferraro’s time in a B’s uniform to this point came in the second of home and home games versus Pittsburgh last week: no. 29 entered the zone 1-on-3, made a patient play winning two separate 50/50 battles along the boards, and passed to Ryan Spooner setting up the game tying goal less than 2 minutes after Pittsburgh had taken the lead. Boston never looked back and went on to win a 6-2 decision - thanks to a heads up, hard working play from Landon Ferraro.
Is The Pasta Ready?
Short answer: apparently not. Not for NHL action, anyways. David “Pasta” Pastrnak has been out since mid November with a fractured foot. Recently, Pastrnak began taking morning skates with his teammates and it appeared a return was close for the 19 year old sophomore. Pastrnak has since been skating with the Providence Bruins of the AHL in efforts to return to game shape. In two contests with the Baby B’s Pastrnak has one assist. And as of this morning, Don Sweeney announced that barring any severe injuries pressing Pastrnak back into service, he would be loaned to the Czech club for the World Junior tournament. So while he isn’t quite ready, we can safely assume the Pasta is just about al dente, and close to a return. This is end of my terrible, awful spaghetti pun.
Where Are They Now?
The Black and Gold still sit one point behind first place Montreal with three games in hand. Take two points in any of those contests and Boston, at least theoretically, catapults into second place in the Eastern Conference. Crazy, right? Look, this team has done one hell of a job, especially in the month of December, to be where they’re currently at. But honestly, does anyone think this is the second best team in the East? No. I don’t think that’s realistic. Luckily, in the form of Pastrnak, they’re awaiting the arrival of another necessary top six forward. And there’s still the glaring need at the top of the blueline. But it’s great to see that the character and grit we all love and celebrate as fans of the Bruins organization does exist within this group. And that overachieving is well within their reach, seeing as they've done so to this point. When it comes time for the tournament, those are three nifty tools to have in the bag of tricks.
Tis The Season
Today being Christmas...yeah, I write this thing on holidays - more fun, less “assignment” / work - this seems as good a time as any to tell Bruins fans to get ready to enjoy the rest of this season. Certainly, it won’t all come up roses and we’ll have the pleasure of being able to pick apart the rest of the year as it unfolds. But as far as I’m concerned, that beats the hell out of “who's that kid in the draft again? How many losses do we need to improve our odds on getting him? Time to tear it all down? Who's getting shipped out to bring back pieces?” I hate that game, and this club shouldn’t subject us to that for quite some time.
One last thing before I go: shame on the NHL and Commissioner Gary Bettman for keeping Boston legend, fan favorite, and native Mainer, Rene Rancourt away from the Winter Classic. Rancourt has been singing the anthems at Bruins games since 1976. He is a Garden and Boston legend - not allowing Rene to sing at the event is pure garbage.
Graeham Henderson writes The Eight Spoked Blog - follow along on twitter: @hendersonchef