BOSTON (CBS) — It’s early June, a period of the calendar that doesn’t necessarily scream “Hockey!” … at least, not when the local team hasn’t stepped on ice together for two full months.
Yet it was just a couple of years ago when the Bruins played all the way through the end of June, and it was four years ago that they used the month of June to end a 39-year championship drought. So with the Blackhawks and Lightning in the thick of an already-incredible Stanley Cup Final, and with the Bruins popping in and out of the news cycle, it’s high time to run through some leftover Bruins thoughts from this spring.
–I was quite befuddled to see the Bruins organization take more than a month to hire Don Sweeney, the obvious choice for the job and the man who looked to be in line for the promotion all along. After all, why groom a guy for a decade to be a GM, only to bypass him when the opportunity arises? The moment Peter Chiarelli was fired, I thought the wheels were in motion to promote Sweeney.
Yet they took a month to make the hiring official, and I have to imagine the team really had eyes for Jeff Gorton. That’s a guy who, in very short time, made some franchise-altering moves for the Bruins back in 2006. While we’ll never really know whether or not Chiarelli was not-very-legally pulling the strings behind the scenes, and while we’ll never know how much autonomy Gorton had, we know that he played roles of varying importance for these trades/acquisitions:
*Trading Andrew Raycroft for Tuukka Rask
*Drafting Phil Kessel in the first round
*Drafting Milan Lucic in the second round
*Drafting Brad Marchand in the third round
*Signing Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard
Again, given that Chiarelli had already been hired by the Bruins but technically was not allowed to report for duty and leave Ottawa until the summer, it’s hard to know exactly how much power Gorton was given. But he was a respected member of the Bruins organization for 15 years, so the team likely trusted him quite a bit.
So perhaps the Bruins held on to the hope that once the Rangers were eliminated from the playoffs, they’d finally get to speak to Gorton, who’s now the assistant GM in New York. Alas, the Rangers stayed in the playoffs too long, and with whispers of Rangers GM Glen Sather retiring, the path may be clear for the Rangers to promote Gorton.
In that sense, it’s too bad, because it’d be fun to see what Gorton could do for the Bruins. Nevertheless, Sweeney is a smart man who embodies hockey, so it’ll be interesting to watch the different ways he constructs a roster compared to his predecessor.
–The first major challenge for Sweeney will be figuring out how to secure restricted free agent Dougie Hamilton’s place on the team for years to come. TSN’s Darren Dreger really alerted the public at large to this issue last week.
So, Sweeney has to walk the line of letting Hamilton know that he is a crucial part of the roster going forward while still not breaking the bank and overpaying for a young player. It was that type of mistake — giving too much money too soon to the likes of Lucic and Marchand, for example — which eventually buried Chiarelli in cap jail. Those guys might have earned their high salaries at various points of their careers, but Chiarelli probably could have worked out some type of bridge deal when they were in their early to mid-20s before really opening the vaults and dedicating a large chunk of the team’s cap room to them.
So while I do think it won’t be long before Hamilton earns the $6 million-$7 million contract that Dreger spoke of, I think Sweeney’s best route will be to try to work out a two- or three-year agreement at a healthy price (maybe between $4.5 million and $5.5 million?) that will keep him as a well-paid part of the team while also setting him up to cash in big as a 25-year-old free agent. That might be easier said than done.
–The reason it’s vitally important for the Bruins to keep Hamilton for some time is that for the first time in a long time, there are serious question marks about the team’s defense. In allowing 2.45 goals against per game last year, the team still ranked eighth in the NHL. Yet that number marks an increase of .37 goals per game from the year prior, and the ranking of eighth represents the team’s lowest spot since 2008. (In the years between, their average ranking in goals against was third.)
The reasons for the slip are many. Zdeno Chara, despite being 38 years old and suffering from a pretty bad knee injury early in the season, was still asked to shut down the opponents’ most dangerous scoring threats just about every shift.
The injury, compounded by age, led to a less effective Chara. But he was still the Bruins’ best defenseman. That’s an issue.
Hamilton will presumably continue to progress this year, but is there any belief that Dennis Seidenberg is going to get better rather than worse? Kevan Miller’s a fine bottom-pairing D-man, and Torey Krug is a useful player, but the Bruins still have real holes in the roster.
So Hamilton is hardly the only priority for Sweeney. Adding a capable top-four D-man will be crucial, because the loss of Johnny Boychuk was something the 2014-15 team never could overcome. But again, it will require creativity, because the Bruins don’t exactly have loads of cap room to afford them the opportunity to go out and sign whichever free agent they want.
–The human brain is a marvelous thing. But sometimes, it is just the worst, stupidest thing. So I would like to apologize in advance, because now that the GM is Sweeney and the team president is Neely, I fully expect my brain to flip-flop some letters and write Sweeny and Neeley a number of times over the coming years. I know how to spell Sweeney; I know how to spell Neely. I have seen their names on the back of hockey jerseys for as long as I’ve known how to read. It’s still going to happen. I am very sorry.
–Carl Soderberg’s done in Boston. That’s a bummer, mostly because he had tremendous hair and the most hilariously steady demeanor in the history of mankind, but also because he’s a player that used to show a lot of promise. Players like Carl don’t exactly grow on trees, and his 16-32-48 totals in his first full NHL season two years ago made it seem as though he could hack it in the NHL.
And maybe he could, but he played the second half of the 2014-15 season as if he already had one foot on the plane back to Sweden. So farväl, Carl. It was good to see you.
–We haven’t heard much from Patrice Bergeron this offseason. Two years ago, we learned that he played through a hundred broken ribs and a collapsed lung and about 45 other serious injuries in the finals, and we saw him after he was released from the hospital and then promptly signed a $52 million contract. Last summer, he was garnering support for that stupid video game cover vote, and you couldn’t hit Facebook or Twitter without seeing something about it. We’ve grown accustomed to seeing Bergeron pop up in the summer, but given his time out of the spotlight this summer, it got me thinking: What in the world does Bergeron spend his money on?
He seems like a shorts and T-shirt kind of guy. He drives a nice but still reasonably priced vehicle. He owns a very nice piece of property, but it doesn’t look like a $20 million mansion. What does he do with all of that money? I have zero guesses. I hope he shows up to the rink in a Maserati next year, just to answer that question.
–Something that’s always stuck in my craw is the common comment that Tuukka Rask is not a great goaltender because he hasn’t won a Stanley Cup. Are you people watching Corey Crawford and Ben Bishop? One of those two is going to win a Cup, and Crawford has a chance to win his second. Bishop ranked 22nd in the NHL in save percentage this year. Twenty-second! Yet if he wins a Cup, he’ll be a champion, and Rask will still be a loser, or something. (I probably should just get over this, considering a person called The Sports Hub yesterday to say that David Ortiz is better than Ted Williams, on account of winning the World Series. Alas, I can’t.)
That’s always boggled my mind. Rask posted nearly identical numbers in the 2013 postseason as Tim Thomas did in 2011. The difference is that the ’11 squad scored 2.98 goals per game in the playoffs, including a ridiculous 5.3 goals per game in the four Cup Final wins. The ’13 team scored 2.65 goals per game in the postseason, and they scored just 2.5 goals per game in the Cup Final — an even 2.0 goals per game in the Bruins’ two wins.
And people still say Rask “blew” Game 6. I fear these people only watched the final minutes of Game 6 once, and that took place when the events unfolded in real time. On the tying goal by Bryan Bickell, Chicago had the goalie pulled for the extra attacker. Milan Lucic got caught in the slot just watching as Bickell wheeled right past him. Bickell was all alone with an open net staring him in the face after Jonathan Toews sent a pass through the crease. And on the Cup-winning goal, Johnny Oduya’s point shot was redirected halfway to the net by Michael Frolik. Rask had been in position to save the shot, but the redirect obviously changed the puck’s course, sending it off the post. Johnny Boychuk, bless his Albertan heart, completely lost track of Dave Bolland, who snuck inside of Boychuk’s position to bury the rebound off the post.
You can watch it all yourself, if you care. But if you blame the goalie for either of those goals, you’re nuts.
And now it’s June 2015, and I’m still talking about this, so perhaps this is as good a time as any to go ahead and end this thing. This would have been a lot more fun if the Bruins were in the midst of actually playing hockey.