The Bruins lead to change. They need better leaders, and fewer followers. They need scoring. They need consistency. They have to build on their strengths, and try to hide their weaknesses.
I. FIRE CLAUDE
Julien has to go. He's an excellent defensive coach, but look at the playoffs this year. Scoring wins as much as defense. Moreover, he's not a playoff coach. An excellent strategist, but an uninspirational leader. He's Brutus, not Mark Antony. He's the math teacher, not the gym teacher.
II. TRADE THOMAS, KEEP RASK
Pretty obvious. Loyal readers know how much I love Thomas. And I like Rask, just hate the reactionary fans who fell in love with him after 20 games. Rask still has holes and flaws. I for one, do not like his collapsing style. But he's cheap, he's young, and he might be the most valuable player in the NHL because of those factors.
What do the B's get for Thomas? Probably not much. His contract is heavy, he's not in his prime, everyone knows the Bruins have to trade him.
III. NEW CAPTAIN
I love Zdeno Chara. He's my favorite non-German Bruin. But he's not a Captain. I think that "C" on his chest weighs him down. He expressed being "nervous," during the Philly series. He's an excellent player, and deserves an "A," and is a great leader-by-example. But I think he'd be a better leader if he were demoted.
IV. D-FENSE! D-FENSE!
The Bruins have an excellent stack of defensemen. Chara, Wideman, Hunwick and Ference are under contract. They need to retain Seidenberg, and try to keep Boychuk. Chara-Seidenberg, then Wideman-Boychuk, then Hunwick-Ference. If you can trade Ference and keep Stuart, even better. That's 6 excellent D-men, 5 of whom can skate on the power play, and 4 of whom would are excellent penalty killers (5 if Stuart is retained). They all get involved in the offense when possible, and they all help out Rask.
V. BILLY G.
I want Bill Guerin. He'll turn 40 in November. But he scored 21 goals for Pittsburgh last season, 11 on the power play. He's experienced, and a leader. He's won the Cup twice, and has 140 playoff games under his belt. He could be worthy of a "C" on his chest. He could be got for a $2.2 million, 1 year deal. That's less than what Blake Wheeler was paid this season, and Guerin certainly brings much more than Wheeler.
VI. ILYA OR NOT ILYA?
Ilya Kovalchuk is the prize jewel free agent of this off-season. Only 27 years old and he's already scored 338 times. At 6' 2" and 230 pounds, he's a big guy who can skate and finish. He's Phil Kessel with balls. But he won't be cheap. He'll be contested and bid on like a date with Jessica Alba on eBay. And he's likely out of the Bruins' price range.
VII. SO WHO DO WE BUY?
The other top free agent is Patrick Marleau. Unless the Bruins trade a center, Marleau doesn't help them much. Although he's a sick player. 44 goals for the Sharks this season. Again, he wouldn't come cheap, and the Bruins might have 5 centers as it is. Could Savard play wing?
There are a lot of solid types available. These guys can be gotten at fair value, and can be solid contributors. To be honest, I think a reasonable goal for the Bruins would be to assemble 2 solid lines of scorers, and combine them with 2 checking lines that will rarely score, but maintain possession of the puck.
One name on the free agent list that jumped out was Paul Kariya. The winger will be 36 during the season, and he only scored 18 goals last year, but he has experience and can find the net.
Alexander Frolov is a more appealing option. He's perennially around the 20 goal mark (averaged 24 per season over the last 7), and he's only 28.
The Bruins might also consider getting aggressive and tendering an offer sheet to restricted free agent Chris Stewart. The 22 year old scored 28 times last year, and has ridiculous upside. But extracting him from Colorado will be near impossible.
If the Bruins get Kovalchuk, they can't afford to re-sign anybody significant. And it might actually be worth it. A front-line of Kovalchuk, Savard, and X would be impressive. But let's be realistic. The more likely scenario will be that the Bruins retain their defensemen, and their grinding forwards like Sobotka. Wheeler might be let go, as might Satan and Recchi. Some modest acquisitions like Guerin and Kariya/Frolov could fill in the gaps. And then you just hope that Ryder and Lucic find their 2008-09 form.
IX. BRIDGE SEASON
The Bruins have 4 top 50 draft picks. They'll be freed of Chara's contract after next season, same with Bergeron's $4.75M salary, Ryder's $4M. They'll have unbelievable flexibility. So I actually don't mind going after Kovalchuk and foresaking any depth for the 2010-11 season. In 2011-12, it might be all worth it, when cap space and a new generation of young players can refill the depth.
It's difficult to suggest which course the Bruins should go. Either take a chance that the draft will work out in the future and foresake yourself now (which might mean Chiarelli's job), or try to build on what the Bruins have. And this team has advanced to the 2nd round of the playoffs two straight seasons. So they can't be doing everything wrong.
Frankly, I'm a gambler. I say trade some talent, make enough space for Kovalchuk. Get him, probably fail in the playoffs again, then build a new team around him and Rask. Go big or go home. But that's probably not even possible. So build a solid team of decent forwards, build some depth at the position, hope you can have multiple threats to score 3 goals, while Rask and the defense limits your opponent.
Friday, May 28, 2010
A tale of two cities, of two teams, of two historic franchises long overdue for some silverware. The Blackhawks rode the high road to get here, winning 52 games, claiming the 2nd seed in the West, and going 12-4 in the playoffs, rolling through their competition. The Flyers, took the low road. They squeezed in on the last day of the season by the slimmest of margins: a shootout goal. They're 12-5 in the playoffs, but were once on the brink, down 0-3 to the Bruins, before surging back, then thumping Montreal.
The Blackhawks haven't won the Cup since 1961. The Flyers since '75.
Philly's playoff run has been, in a word: compelling. They lose Jeff Carter, but are able to beat Brodeur and the Devils in 5 games. They fall behind Boston 3-0, even losing their goalie, then comeback and win the series in the Bruins' ice. Then they face the giant slayers from Montreal, who could beat Washington and Pittsburgh, bet couldn't handle the Flyers. Not even close.
But I'll burst your bubble, Philly. The playoffs are about weaknesses more than they're about strengths. The Flyers have a balanced offense (10th in scoring) with multiple threats (7 players with 4+ goals this postseason). They also boast 4 stalwart defenseman, including the guy with a triathlete's endurance: Chris Pronger. Where's the weakness? Goaltending. Despite their solid defense, the Flyers were 15th in goals allowed this season.
But in the playoffs they have the best GAA, an impressive 2.12! Have Leighton and Boucher stepped up in the postseason? Yes. But that's not the total story. Certainly both have been solid, but they've also benefited from their opponents' lack of offensive prowess.
The Devils were 19th in the NHL in goals scored. The Canadiens 23rd. The Bruins 29th. The Devils had Kovalchuk and Parise. The Bruins' offense was spearheaded by a 42 year old in Mark Recchi and a scrap-heap acquisition in Miroslav Satan. The Canadiens had Mike Cammalleri, and nothing else.
Chicago had the 3rd best offense in the NHL's regular season, averaged 3.31 goals per game in the post-season thus far (behind only Vancouver and Detroit).
They get offense from multiple players, just like Philadelphia. Six Blackhawks have 4+ postseason goals. Six Blackhawks had 20+ regular season goals.
Moreover, Chicago will be playing with home ice advantage. Philadelphia was 17-21-3 on the road during the regular season, and 5-4 during the playoffs. Chicago was 29-8-4 at home this season. But they've actually been better on the road in the postseason, with a spectacular 7-1 record away from Chicago.
Now what's Chicago's weakness? It might just be goaltending too. Antti Niemi's had an impressive 2.33 GAA in the postseason, but his SV% is much less staggering, at .921, it's 5th among playoff goalies with 4+ starts.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that there will be goals. Both teams have good offenses and exploitable goalies. Chicago's power-play wasn't very good in the regular season (17.7%), but it's been decent in the postseason (22.6%). Then again, both teams are very good penalty killers. (85.0% for Chicago and 83.0% for Philly in the regular season, 86.6% and 87% for them, respectively, in the playoffs).
So who has the edge? Chicago. While Philadelphia's Top-4 D-men have been outstanding this postseason, they've yet to face a team that can roll 2 to 3 good scoring lines. Moreover, Chicago can keep possession of the puck, wearing out those 4 defensemen.
My gut wants to say Chicago in 5. But I'll temper that with some pessimism and say Chicago in 6.
CONN SMYTHE WATCH:
Antti Niemi, G, CHI - 2.33 GAA, .921 SV%, 2 shutouts
Michael Leighton, G, PHI - 1.45 GAA, .948 SV%, 3 shutouts, 6-1 record
Jonathan Toews, C, CHI - 7 goals, 19 assists, +4, 3 GWG
Mike Richards, C, PHI - 6 goals, 15 assists, +6
Patrick Kane, RW, CHI - 7 goals, 13 assists
Danny Briere, C, PHI - 9 goals, 9 assists, +4, 4 GWG
Claude Giroux, RW, PHI - 8 goals, 9 assists, +10
Patrick Sharp, C, CHI - 7 goals, 9 assists
Chris Pronger, D, PHI - 4 G, 10 A, 26 hits, 51 blocks, like 30:00 per game
Brent Seabrook, D, CHI - 3 G, 6 A, +8, 60 hits, 41 blocks
Dustin Byfuglien, RW, CHI - 8 G, 2 A, 4 GWG, 56 hits
Well we've all seen flashes of brilliance from Daisuke. And we've all seen the kind of bizarre performance he staged last night. Seriously, why does anyone swing at any pitch from this guy?
Matsuzaka walked 8 batters in 4.2 innings. He faced 24 batters, and walked a third of them. He threw 112 pitches, only 60 strikes and 52 balls. But hey, he only allowed 2 singles and no other hits.
The shortness of the outing brought in Joe Nelson, whose very entrance in a game diminishes the Sox' chance of winning by about 40%. I'm just guessing at that figure, but I dare anyone to prove me wrong.
The offense was equally inept. Bill Hall hit a solo shot in the 5th. JD Drew knocked in a run with a double in the 6th. Beltre had an RBI single back in the 4th. But the Sox hardly got any baserunners against the great Brian Bannister, then the vaunted Royals' bullpen. In fact, the KC bullpen pitched 3 perfect innings of relief.
It's difficult to be negative and pessimistic after what the Sox did in Tampa Bay and Philadelphia. But this was a vintage Daisuke disappointer. Then the bullpen couldn't keep the deficit stable. And the offense didn't do enough to win, against subpar pitching.
Tim Wakefield opposes Kyle Davies tonight.