Tag Archives: NHL

It’s Not You, It’s Me

Make no mistake, Claude Julien was the best thing the Boston Bruins had going for them in 2017. Over the last decade he was able to take underachieving teams and consistently put them in a position to succeed at a higher level than they were capable of.

However, as of Tuesday, February 7th, Don Sweeney and company decided going in another direction was best for the team over 50 games into the season. Following soul crushing defeats, most recently at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday night, it was almost a foregone conclusion that something needed to change.

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That being said, it may come as a welcomed surprise to some that the man who has been single handedly blamed for Peter Chiarelli’s miscalculation of the salary cap and questionable player movement, is gone. But for most, it is normal to feel a sense of emptiness. Being the most winningest coach in franchise history doesn’t come by accident and his decade long helm behind the bench which made him the longest currently tenured coach will not soon be forgotten. Giving the city its first title since 1972 and reinvigorating the passion that only Bobby Orr and Ray Bourque before him were able to create.

With inconsistencies in the playoffs and less than ideal performances come season’s end being the direct source to the decision that was made. Claude Julien may be a lot of things, but he is not a bad coach. Granted his reluctance to adapt to an evolving game at times was inductive to ripping your own hair out, but I digress.

Anyone can be successful with the right players in the right environment, but Julien never had complete control of player movement, and salary designation. Internally, the discourse between management and coach became more than apparent over the last year or so. And for better or worse as they say, a decision had to be made and a difficult one at the very least. With Cam Neely noticeably absent from the press conference held Tuesday morning, it has become outrageously obvious that the glaring issues with the organization weren’t just the coach.

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Filling in the now vacant position is Bruce Cassidy. The 51 year old played professionally for the Chicago Blackhawks and more recently was named as Julien’s assistant entering this season. Cassidy commented that the promotion has felt like anything but, considering it has come at the demise of a friend. Now it should be noted that the promotion is on an interim basis, which more probably than not means yet another change at head coach may loom on the horizon. Through 55 games this season the Bruins have managed to keep themselves in playoff contention in a less competitive Atlantic Division. Sitting 26-23-6 places them 4th in that respective division, now only the top three teams per division make the playoffs with the possibility to qualify for two wild card spots.    

Personally I take issue with how management handled the removal of Claude Julien from the organization. Waiting until the Patriots championship parade to make the formal announcement, in what I can only imagine was a lackluster attempt to take attention away from the severity of the situation. On the other side, perhaps it was an attempt to allow Cassidy some practice time to prep his team for San Jose Thursday night. Whatever the reason Cam Neely, the president of hockey operations not even making a public appearance at said conference is laughable at best. Leaving Don Sweeney to deal with the press alone. It felt like a major disrespect to a man whom the bulk of the players had nothing but the utmost respect for. A man who for all his flaws, and there were quite a few, managed to keep himself in the discussion as one of the league’s elites.

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Claude Julien’s era is over in Boston and for what it’s worth he deserves to go out with respect and a sense of decency. Not with the covers thrown over his head and kicked out the back door. It doesn’t feel professional, nor does it seem like something that one of the NHL’s most sought after franchises should be doing. Don’t shed too many tears for dear old Claude. The 56 year old now free agent coach has more than enough experience to take a bubble team and make mold them into a contender. With Boston in 2007 as a prime example of just that. Winnipeg, St. Louis, Florida and now Las Vegas have all been rumored to be in the market for a new coach. Also don’t rule out a return to Montreal or even New Jersey, the teams he manned prior to Boston.

Au revoir monsieur Julien, I look forward to seeing you behind a bench in no time at all.

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Same Song And Dance

Leading up to NBCSN’s broadcast of Wednesday Night Rivalry, the Boston Bruins had won three games in a row. Which when you consider how the regular season has gone up to that point was impressive. The level of inconsistency seen from the Bruins had left even the most die hard fans deflated. And the Capitals resembled an admirable opponent to go through to get their 4th win in a row.

Washington embodies the polar opposite when it comes to consistency. One of the leagues hottest teams, faces a team that still needed to find its identity. Going off that point even further, Boston only has two players to reach the 20 goal mark so far this season. In fact, they only have five players with goals in the double digits.

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Washington has 8 players who have scored at least 10 goals so far this season with Alex Ovechkin leading the way with 25. Furthering my point on the differentiating seasons.

Waking up Thursday, following the 5-3 loss to the Capitals, the Bruins clutched to the final playoff spot in the Atlantic for dear life. Having learned nothing new about the team that has spent a significant portion of the season soul searching.

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Brad Marchand remained Boston’s hottest scorer, but one player can’t win you a hockey game. Along with Marchand’s two goals, David Krejci also got his name on the score sheet while David Pastrnak chipped in with three helpers. Which is all well and good, but it continues to prove a point, which is Boston lacks significantly with depth scoring.

The expectation going into the season is that your top six forwards will manufacture the bulk of your offense. While your bottom six forwards contribute sparingly along the way. Outside of those top six forwards, Boston’s next highest goal scorer is their 4th line center, 36 year old Dominic Moore.

Players such as Riley Nash and Matt Beleskey were brought in to be very productive third line players with the potential to crack the second line. Both of which to this point have not lived up to the expectation.

Now more than ever, the Bruins need those who play in the latter half of the lineup to get involved offensively. Especially with Brandon Carlo, Patrice Bergeron and Tuukka Rask being banged up across the last two games.

If Boston is going to hold on to the playoff spot they currently possess, a move must be made at the deadline. A deal with more magnitude than swapping a 3rd round pick for a bottom six defense  man such as Wade Redden, or another aging veteran who’s best offensive days are well behind him like Brian Rolston.

 

 

Broadcasting Beauties on NBC

Canada has “Hockey Night In Canada”and the United States has “NHL on NBC”. When it comes to sheer games being broadcast over the course of a season, Hockey Night is clearly the victor.

With that being said, hockey fans in America have been the beneficiary of some fantastic games this past week. That is if they happened to tune in.

While Jared Spurgeon may not be unanimously considered to be within the top 100 goal scorers in the league, he absolutely dazzled the fans with this insane hand-eye coordinated thing of beauty.

My goodness, perhaps the Twins ought to give this guy a call to add some depth to their batting order.

Alex Ovechkin is no stranger to grand stage theatrics. The “Great 8” has been notorious for getting fans out of their seats and into the action right away. With a matchup last Wednesday against bitter rival Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, sparks were sure to fly. Especially when a specific milestone was within reach for my generations most lethal goal scorer.

Just 35 seconds into the game, Ovechkin’s toe drag-roof job set the tone for the rest of the night as the Caps cruised to a 5-2 victory. His early tally was his 1,000 NHL point. At just 31 years old and no prior injury concerns, Ovechkin has the opportunity to conjure up some instant magic.

Just 5 nights later, Crosby and Ovechkin would exchange pleasantries again. This time in Pittsburgh. The Caps leaped to a 3-0 lead early in the second, but the lead didn’t last as the Penguins riffled 6 straight goals before the start of the third period. Remarkably, the scoring didn’t end there for either side. As the Caps would tie the game at 7 late in regulation, only for the Penguins to take the decisive second point in overtime.

Your final score, 8-7.

When two original 6 teams face off against one another, it’s often must watch television. In the case of the Bruins vs. Red Wings game this past Wednesday, I’d certainly have to agree. Following an embarrassing defeat at the hand of the anemic Islanders, the Bruins looked for a confidence building team victory in Detroit. Boston’s young guns shinned early as Frank Vatrano nailed two goals and Brandon Carlo’s missile saw the Bruins up three goals on Detroit. An answer from Dylan Larkin cut Boston’s titanic lead to just two. Shortly there after, Patrice Bergeron’s deflection put the Bruins back up by three.

While three unanswered goals by Detroit would tie the game at 4 a piece, McQuiad and Nyquist would each score for their respective teams to force overtime. 5 pulse pounding minutes later, a shootout would decide who would possess the all important second point in the standings.

Detroit sent the hometown fans off with an excellent group victory. For Boston they continue to lick their wounds and search for an answer to their struggles. Emerging discussions about the future dealings of the head coach are once again at the forefront. With time being the only indicator of what course of action will be followed through on, a win against Chicago could prolong the process.

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While it may be old news now, the Montreal Canadiens got smoked by the Minnesota Wild last Thursday, 7-1. I’ll admit, entering this season there were some questions I had in regards to their locker room chemistry. Those concerns were quickly squandered. Montreal looked like the real deal for a significant portion of this season. Attribute it to the lingering affects from the World Cup of Hockey or the pressures of playing in Montreal. But Carey Price has looked aside himself this past month. Granted Montreal currently is in sole possession of first place in the Atlantic, you need to play your best hockey at this juncture of the season. Expect Montreal to make it to the spring tournament, and be a nightmare matchup for whatever team they get in round one.

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On the other hand, aside from filling the net against Montreal, Minnesota has also been filling in the win column. Playing arguably their best hockey since becoming a professional team. Since acquiring Parise and Suter in the same offseason, Minnesota has had their eye on a Cup. With the changes that have been made to tweak the roster in the last 365 days, that dream is looking attainable.

 

New faces in familar places

Doc Emerick once said, “it’s often the third and fourth line guys”. In terms of cultivating a championship caliber team, the latter portion of your lineup often is the most important. That being said, finding the proper components is easier said than done.

In the case of the Boston Bruins, since their 2013 run at the Cup, finding those players has proven to be difficult. Recently that trend initially appears to be changing. In fact they didn’t have to go very far geographically to find them.

Both Frank Vatrano and Tim Schaller went undrafted out of the University of Massachusetts and Providence College respectively. Vatrano signed a deal with the Bruins entering 2015-16 after a strong training camp, but was assigned to the AHL affiliate Providence. From there, he was nearly a goal per game player. The East Longmeadow Massachusetts native possesses the skating ability and heavy snap shot to compete at the NHL level with ease. While short in stature, there is no lack of heart when it comes to “Frank the Tank“. Off season surgery sidelined him for the bulk of the early portion of the 2016-17 season, but since his return, he’s added another scoring threat on the power play. Also, allowing head coach Claude Julien some flexibility with his line mixing in game.

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Merrimack, New Hampshire product Tim Schaller may have raised some eye brows when he chose the Friars rather than committing to his hometown team. In four seasons at Providence, Schaller’s most productive season came in his last as a Friar tallying 23 points. While those numbers don’t jump off the page, it was enough to be signed by Buffalo. In three seasons between the Sabres and the Rochester Americans, he was far more effective at the AHL level than the NHL.

Unlike Vatrano, Schaller didn’t impress the brass with his first shot at professional hockey. So, when the Bruins signed the free agent this past off season, not a whole lot was expected of him. Especially when you consider it was only a one year deal. Regardless of the logistics, to the contract one thing is for certain, Schaller has made the best of his second shot at the NHL.

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Since being a relatively obvious choice to crack the opening night lineup, he’s posed as another cog to allow Julien some breathing room with his lineup. You don’t have to ask twice when it comes to Tim as he’ll most likely do what he’s asked of. He’s fought, gone to the dirty areas on the power play, and most notibly shown chemistry with the Bruin’s top offensive weapons.

Boston currently owns the second playoff spot in the Atlantic, with absolutely no cushion separating them from just about everyone else below them in their division. At this point of the season, every team has its laundry list of injuries, as points reach its highest premium. It’s the players like Vatrano and Schaller that need to shine brightest in order to solidify Boston’s appearance in the playoffs.

On the edge of missing the playoffs for an unprecedented third season in a row, it’s all hands on deck for Boston. Collecting 6 out of a possible 8 points on the road in four games, it’ll be a mad scramble to the finish line. With the injuries suffered to key players on the four game road trip, the previously mentioned players may be leaned on more than ever.

There are Alternatives to Fighting, Just Not in the NHL

Take it all in, you’re witnessing the official divorce between the NHL and fighting. While it may not come as a shock to some, it’s become blatantly obvious to most.

For the Boston Bruins, looking specifically at last nights game in Buffalo, Sabres tough guy William Carrier caught David Backes at a vulnerable angle. As the unwritten hockey law goes at the next stoppage in play, Adam McQuaid seeked out Carrier to instigate a fight.

Once the gloves came off, two officials darted into the fray in a lackluster attempt to separate the two. However, in doing so they allowed Carrier to land multiple solid hits to McQuaid’s head before it was broken up. Which brings up my next critique, what was the point?

If the idea was to protect the players from themselves, why wasn’t Carrier penalized more for his free shots at McQuaid? The result was a power play to Buffalo, which is beyond head scratching. To me, the message that was sent to players was “if you’re locked up with the officials just get an arm free and continue to whale on the defenseless player”.

While the intention may have been justifiable in some sense. I can’t understand why in a similar situation earlier this month in Montreal officials didn’t step between Torey Krug and Brendan Gallagher.

No doubt in both checks would lead to extra curricular activity there was head contact. But with Boston’s match up against Montreal, the officials didn’t interject until both players hit the ground. So wheres any form of consistency? Players are sticking up for themselves because that is how hockey works.

I would have absolutely no problem with that type of behavior from the officials if it was a league wide mandate. Which clearly it’s not. Otherwise, it should be noted that as early as November of 2015-16, fighting was reportedly down 40% league wide. A trend I would imagine has only increased since then.

Line brawls are unnecessary and staged fights are soon to be ancient relics with players like Matt Martin and Shawn Thornton representing the last of their kind. With an added attention to increased scoring, made evident by having some of the best players in the league not even eligible to consume alcohol.

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Regardless of the increase of speed, finesse and scoring one thing remains. The causal hockey fan watches because its level of violence is higher than the other major sports. Similarly to how the casual baseball fan doesn’t like to watch a pitchers duel, they want 450 foot home runs every evening.

On the other hand, concussions and deaths related to trauma suffered while playing in the NHL has become a living nightmare. But when you have two players who aren’t strangers to engaging one another I say if it’s mutual, let them go. It’s only when a player gets jumped that I take issue with fighting. Something that hasn’t been seen in a noticeably long time.

 

Run Of The Miller

Seven years ago, Ryan Miller was the best American bread goaltender in the world, backstopping team USA to a gold medal showdown against Canada at the Vancouver Olympics. While the outcome was not in his favor, it can be argued it was still his crowning achievement as a professional.

You wouldn’t know it by looking at him now, but Miller was once one of the games most positionally sound goaltenders.

Buffalo’s saving grace and one of the best NCAA hockey players ever.

At 36 years old, Miller is far beyond his peak. Plateauing in the playoffs and struggling to regain his broken footing, Vancouver swept him off his feet in 2014. But in the days that followed, it’s been anything but a match made in heaven.

At every level of competition, Miller was a standout. At Michigan State, he set an NCAA record 26 shutouts in a single season. It didn’t take long for him to crack Buffalo’s roster and by the conclusion of the 2005-06 season, he was the undisputed starter.

2006-07 was dominated by Miller starting 63 games and posting a 0.911 save percentage and a 2.72 GAA.  Good enough to get the Sabres back in the Conference Finals. However, they were ousted by Ottawa in five games.

His success continued into 2012 when he surpassed Dominik Hasek’s franchise record for wins taking only 6 years to do so compared to Hasek’s 9.

Unfortunately, Miller’s stout play didn’t translate to universal success for the Sabres. Offensively being one of the most abysmal teams in the league and decimated by injury, Miller would only play 40 games during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons  with the Sabres putting up pedestrian numbers at best.

Buffalo/Boston is your fathers rivalry. Sure, the two teams went back and forth on several occasions in latter stages of the 2000’s, but it was a one sided affair.

Once Buffalo began to lose their grip on the regular season, the rivalry was all but an after thought. That was until Milan Lucic planted his own personal bench mark in history.

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Buffalo came to the Boston Garden on November 12th to take on the defending Stanley Cup champions. Lucic was sent on a break for the net when the puck got away from him at the Buffalo blue line. Miller then charged out to play the loose puck but after doing so, Lucic followed through with his hit.

Less than a month later, in a game against the Predators, Jordin Tootoo dipped his shoulder and drove to the net hard. Colliding hard with Miller, infuriated by the contact, he retaliated immediately which caused a line brawl.

This could be the beginning of the snowball effect which eventually lead to the next chapter in Miller’s career.

In early 2014, Miller was sent to St. Louis in the hopes that a change of scenery would be good for the goaltender with a lot of tread on the tires.

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Chicago ousted St. Louis in the first round of playoffs and a less than outstanding showing from Miller made him the odd man out.

Vancouver, who recently lost the services of their longtime goaltender Roberto Luongo, quickly signed Miller to a 3 year 18 million dollar contract. In the two seasons since the signing, Vancouver’s production has dipped significantly compared to the offensive power house they were once considered.

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In three playoff games in 2014-15, Miller only managed to go 1-1 with Eddie Lack coming in relief in the third game.

Briefly looking over his stats, Miller throughout his career has been extremely consistent. Aside from a few blemishes in 11 seasons, his save percentage is .916 and his GAA is 2.60. Which makes you wonder if he is the actual issue?

Early in his career, Buffalo boasted some talented teams, but they lacked the killer instinct and always seemed to come one goal shy of accomplishing their goal. Without a doubt Miller was the reason they enjoyed the success they had. It’s a shame the team around him was never able to support him. I imagine if they were able to draft a player like Jack Eichel during Miller’s peak in Buffalo, things may have ended differently.

While in St. Louis, it was too little too late. Ken Hitchcock even commented that with a player like Miller, they would have rather acquired him in the offseason. The idea being that the more time to integrate him to the game plan would mean more success he would have enjoyed.

Vancouver initially appears to be a wash. While in his first season, he was able to back stop another playoff appearance, the Canucks missed the spring tournament last season. With 2016-17 offering no relief to the aging core of players, it would take more than a Christmas miracle to qualify.

Unfortunately, more so for Miller, the market for an aging veteran goaltender is scarce. Especially one that wishes to see a significant portion of live action down the road.

What truly is unfortunate is how promising the career of Ryan Miller started out compared to how it’s going to end. I like a lot of others hope that the Canucks can right the ship and end the season as a playoff contender, but even then, nothing is guaranteed.

The Best That Never Was?

Contrary to popular belief, sports is the best drama of all time. What sets the performances of athletes who are payed to play a game from Oscar worthy actors is the simplest of factors.

Unlike the latter, the former is unscripted. Pure poetry in motion that warrants significant results. Ask any athlete at any position at anytime, what they would rather be doing at that exact moment and the answer may be universal. Nothing.

Unfortunately for some, just becoming a professional doesn’t necessarily cement them as being successful. Those athletes are typically remembered by the sudden “remember him?” or the “I totally forgot that guy was on our team that year”.

However, every once in a while an athlete comes around that changes everyone’s perceptions of that team. Becoming the cog that is instrumental to the machine running smoothly. This can be said for New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

You see, before Gronk, the position of tight end was played normally by a former wide receiver that couldn’t catch well and was large enough to help block defensive linemen. When Gronk catapulted into the NFL, the common perception of a tight end was obliterated. Never before had that type of athleticism and personality been part of the position. His quirky attitude and can’t miss pre and post game interviews made for excellent cannon fodder on Youtube.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all unicorns and show ponies for what can only be described as the freak of nature that is Rob Gronkowski.

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Lunatic Patriots fans, avert your eyes from what you’re about to read. Injuries may very well force him into an early retirement. Against the Jets, Rob suffered what is described as a herniated disc that will require season ending surgery. Add this to the already lengthy laundry list of injuries that he’s fallen victim to since entering the league 7 years ago.

If in fact injuries do him in within the next year and a half, an unfortunate question will be asked time and time again. What could he have been like without the injuries? Many shoulda coulda woulda’s will follow.

Which made me think about all the former NHLers that suffered the same fate. Of the three that came to mind immediately were Eric Lindros, Bobby Orr and Pavel Bure. All of which are now in the Hall of Fame. All three went to Stanley Cup finals on separate occasions with Orr being the only that came out on top.

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For Lindros it was concussions, which is unfortunate in the sense that he was built similarly to Gronkowski. Eric was huge, commanded a lot of space on the ice, could decimate opposing players who dared to skate through the neutral zone with their head down. Oh, and he could score at will.

Ironically, his forte was his eventual demise Scott Stevens caught Lindros with a pulverizing body check. Lindors was one of a kind and his style of play is yet to be imitated nearly 20 years after the fact. While he was recently inducted into hockey’s hall of fame, it’s hard to shake the notion that a lot of hockey was left on the slate.

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Orr played like he was 5 inches taller than he actually was. Blocking shots, colliding into his own net to break up plays and taking and distributing abuse on a regular basis. Considered by most to be the greatest all around defensemen, his body constantly failed him. Forcing him into an early retirement. Regardless of imitators and to quote my favorite rapper, “no matter how many fish in the sea it would be so empty without Bobby.”

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Pavel Bure was magical with the puck on his stick, just Youtube his highlight reel. After all, you don’t receive the nickname “the Russian rocket” for nothing. Despite his style of play resembling nothing of Lindros or Orr, Bure succumbed to a similar narrative. Lower body injuries hindered Bure’s ability to become one of the best ever to play. His one appearance in the Stanley Cup final fell short as the Rangers beat his Canucks in game 7 in 1994. In the years that followed, Bure became more of a journey man of sorts, shuffled around team to team due to his injuries until his retirement in 2005.

While he, like the previously mentioned players, holds a spot in the hall of fame, it’s a far cry from what could have been for one of the 90’s most electric hockey players.