By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — No one around the Bruins would ever divulge the secret formula used to divide the roster into two groups for the first few days of training camp. But it’s not a coincidence that centers Ryan Spooner and Dominic Moore have been grouped together.
Evidence that the Bruins specifically made sure Spooner spent time with Moore was on display after formal drills were complete at Warrior Ice Arena on Thursday. As players split into small groups to work on different skills, Spooner, Moore and assistant coach Jay Pandolfo commingled around the faceoff dot just outside one of the blue lines to go over strategy on the draw.
Moore, who signed a one-year contract worth $900,000 over the summer, has won 54.1 percent of his faceoffs in nearly 800 NHL games played. The way things are going, if Spooner improves even a smidge, Moore might want to ask for some sort of assistant coach bonus because so far Spooner has been dreadful.
The 24-year-old Spooner won 42.8 percent of his draws last season. Any improvements he made over the summer were absent Wednesday in the 5-1 preseason loss to the Detroit Red Wings, as Spooner won just four of 16 faceoffs. Even if you’re among the camp that correctly devalues faceoff wins because of how rarely the win means the team maintains possession, those are still pretty dreadful numbers.
If Spooner can’t learn from Moore, he may not be able to learn from anyone.
“I came in as a young player and obviously it’s a whole new level,” Moore said. “You have to work at it and again try and find that edge whatever way you can. And you have to be committed to it. It’s definitely not easy but if you have the right mentality and you know you try and build it up.”
The Bruins have to take some of the faceoff burden off center Patrice Bergeron, who took 1,978 draws last season – more than 800 more than the next Bruins player (David Krejci). They obviously accepted that Spooner might not be the answer because they signed Moore and David Backes and Riley Nash. Assistant coach Bruce Cassidy said of Spooner on Thursday, “He can still get on the ice and help you even when he’s deficient in the faceoffs circle if some wingers that can help him.”
Cassidy’s probably right in the short term, but if Spooner is going to bury the Bruins in faceoff losses then that means Backes has to either be on his line or has to come out for special shifts. Or Moore or Nash have to be on Spooner’s line and that might take away vital top-nine ice time from a player with more skill.
This is a conundrum Cassidy didn’t want to comment too much on in the absence of coach Claude Julien, who remains at the World Cup of Hockey 2016. But having to pair a player like Spooner with a babysitter for faceoffs isn’t ideal for a team looking to take the next step and become a playoff team again.
Let’s face it: The grit and determination it takes to win faceoffs hasn’t exactly shown up in other areas of Spooner’s game. Spooner is all about speed and shooting, which the Bruins need. However, how much indifference can the Bruins live with in other areas of the game in order to have Spooner flying around with the puck, when his line eventually gets it?
One would think that at some point something has to give. Spooner’s always going to be blocked out of the top two center spots by Bergeron and Krejci. And with Backes also around it might get even more difficult to have Spooner around when there are areas of need the Bruins need to address. Until the shoe drops, as long as Spooner’s here the Bruins want him to improve his all-around game in order to become a player they can lean on or trade at a high price. Those improvements include getting his faceoff victories to a respectable level.
Spooner would be wise to stick close to Dominic Moore during the rest of training camp and beyond.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.