|NHL trade deadline fact or fiction, Bruins style||03.04.09 at 11:37 am ET|
With the trade deadline bearing down on us at 3 p.m. and Bruins people telling me not to expect anything monumental, here’s a quick version of NHL trade deadline “Fact or Fiction” to tide people over until the deadline. There seems to be a few different choices out there for a Bruins organization that could clearly utilize a shot in the arm — or a swift kick to the backside depending on your views parenting a wayward hockey club.
The team continues to look for help in two key areas: a puck-moving defenseman that can offer depth at the back end of the blueline corps during a hotly-contested playoff series when teams really begin to bang guys like Dennis Wideman, Andrew Ference and Aaron Ward. The second area: a veteran left-handed shot with some size, grit and offensive skill is also a need given Boston’s set of personnel on the top two power play units, and their lack of physical size in spots through the lineup.
With that in mind, along with a real lack of Dickens-style “Great Expectations” at who is going to be wearing a Spoked B sweater when the Bruins suit up against the Phoenix Coyotes tomorrow night — here’s a rundown on what’s going on with the “Fact or Fiction” department:
*Chris Pronger and Travis Moen to Boston for either A) Patrice Bergeron, Mark Stuart, Joe Colborne and a draft pick or B) Phil Kessel, Mark Stuart, Joe Colborne and a draft pick. The Ducks said this morning that they’ve told Big Bad Pronger that he won’t be dealt unless they’re blown away by an offer, which — by using my handy, dandy NHL jargon decoder ring — means that the Bruins won’t be getting Pronger unless they deal Kessel. Some believe that it makes sense to do this deal when it’s still in question how much money Kessel, a potential 40-50 goal scorer, is going to seek as a restricted free agent this summer. Add that to how much of an issue motivation might be once he’s locked in with a comfortable two or three-year deal, and how difficult it will be to sign Krejci, Kessel, Hunwick, Thomas, Lucic, Wheeler and Savard over the next two years. It’s clear somebody won’t be staying. Pronger coming to Boston? Fiction, but I wouldn’t completely rule it out.
*Defenseman Derek Morris to Boston, Manny Fernandez, Vladimir Sobotka and a draft pick to Phoenix, and then Fernandez is flipped to Buffalo: With Philip Kuba signed to an extension in Ottawa and real doubt as to whether Pronger or Jay Bouwmeester will actually be dealt, guys like Morris and Jordan Leopold really gain in value as the only available blueliners on the market. The New Jersey Devils seem to be getting involved with Scott Clemmensen as well, but there’s a real danger that this is just to keep raising the price that the Bruins or Caps will eventually pay. The Sabres are looking for a potential place-holder in net with Ryan Miller still battling an ankle injury. Will Morris come to Boston, and will Manny Fernandez – known as the “Quiet Man” around the Boston media corps after ducking out following his loss Tuesday night — be shipped out of town. I’m going Fact on this one.
*Oilers winger Erik Cole to the Bruins for Vladimir Sobotka and a draft pick: This trade has really been pushed to the back burner while B’s GM Peter Chiarelli goes out hunting for that depth defenseman. Cole hasn’t exactly been lighting the world on fire this season, but he does bring a degree of toughness and scoring touch for that first power play unit. He’s also got the Cup experience, and the price shouldn’t be all that high for the big Banger. The Oilers reportedly want a roster player, and Sobokta would be a roster player for the Oil. Cole hasn’t been the same player since undergoing neck surgery with the Canes several years ago, so the expectations shouldn’t be sky high if he does end up in the Hub. Will Cole come to Boston? I’m going Fact on this one as well.
*Blues winger Keith Tkachuk to Boston for Matt Lashoff and a draft pick: The Blues want their young guys to taste the playoffs and sit only four games back for a playoff spot. Tkachuk’s agent is with the big power forward today as the deadline comes to pass, but it looks as if “Walt” isn’t going anywhere. Will Tkachuk be headed to his Boston hometown? I say Fiction.
*Either A) Leafs forward Dominic Moore for a high draft pick or B) Nik Antropov for a 2010 second round pick. Both Leafs forwards are out there for the taking, but the Bruins don’t appear interested in Antropov despite the 6-foot-6 frame and obvious offensive skill around the net. If Antropov had a bit more consistent grit to his game he’d be a Bruin, but then again if he had a bit more consistent grit he wouldn’t be on the trade market. It’s also worth mentioning that Tomas Kaberle is off the board after injuring his hand against the New Jersey Devils last night. Moore seems like a good fit and could still come to Boston, but it appears the B’s are looking in a different direction at forward. Will Moore or Antropov be headed to Boston? I say Fiction on both.
*Avalanche defenseman Jordan Leopold to the Bruins for Vladimir Sobotka and a draft pick. Another rumor that has subsided after it was gaining traction in earlier weeks. Leopold is believed to be a fall-back option if Chiarelli loses out on the Morris sweepstakes. Is Leopold headed to Boston? Fiction, but he could quickly change to a Fact if things don’t fall Boston’s way. Edit: Scratch all that Leopold gone to the Flames for a player, prospect and pick.
*Ottawa tough guy Chris Neil for Matt Lashoff and draft pick. The agitating Neil can’t come to a money agreement on a contract extension with the Senators, and is just the kind of mischevious force that could be a spark for the B’s going forward. Will Neil come to the Bruins? Fiction, but it could happen if — as Bob Barker used to say – the price is right. Edit: Nokelainen not present at Bruins practice, and could be involved in a deal for Neil.
|Emotionless Bruins need to start finding some inspiration||03.03.09 at 11:52 pm ET|
B’s goaltender Manny Fernandez has started exactly four games since suffering a lower back injury against the Ottawa Senators on Jan. 8, so it was incumbent upon the Bruins players in front of him to step up with that extra effort in front of their rusty ‘tender.
Added to the mix were rampant rumors that Fernandez was once again back on the trade block, and was perhaps being dangled to the Phoenix Coyotes in a three-way swap that would have brought veteran blueliner Derek Morris back to the Hub — and potentially pushed Manny Being Manny Fernandez out to the Buffalo Sabres in the wake of Ryan Miller’s injury.
Trade or no trade, supporting Fernandez is not what happened in a significant step backward for an entire Black and Gold roster. A puck team without much pluck watched three third-period goals power the Philadelphia Flyers to victory and make a loser out of Fernandez in a 4-2 defeat at the TD Banknorth Garden.
The Big, Bad B’s were outworked, outhustled and outclassed by an impassioned Flyers bunch looking to make a statement, and don’t look now but, the New Jersey Devils — fortified by the return of All-World goaltender Martin Brodeur and a trade that brought them gritty defenseman Niclas Havelid — are only a scant six points behind the Bruins in the tightening Eastern Conference standings.
When looking for the disturbing combined lack of passion and performance on the ice, glance no further than Boston’s big defensive stopper, Zdeno Chara, who was skating during each of Philadelphia’s four goals on the evening and couldn’t do enough to slow down the Flyers trio of Mike Knuble, Mike Richards and Simon Gagne. Chara did step to the plate after Scott Hartnell took repeated runs at Michael Ryder, and took two minor penalties after dropping the Flyers agitator.
“We’re a team that thrived on being a hardworking character team, and we’re lacking that,” said Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward. “It’s not X’s and O’s. We had a few guys say something after the game, but it’s irrelevant at this point. We need to pick up our socks and figure out what it is that allows us to be successful.”
Following the game, players traveled along the same party lines as Ward and pointed to a lack of emotion against a team that — just one season ago — tormented the Bruins with their physical style and sent more than one Boston player to the injury list.
Perhaps it was the trade deadline that had the team and it’s players preoccupied with names ranging from Patrice Bergeron to Phil Kessel that were drawn into speculation and trade rumor mills?
“Wouldn’t Philadelphia be in that same boat?” asked B’s coach Claude Julien rhetorically, after watching a Flyers team that clearly wasn’t going through the hockey motions.
A good point by the Bruins coach, who like many of the players has watched way too many half-hearted efforts and character-challenged performances by a hockey club that brought the hard hat with them nearly every night in the season’s first half. NHL teams dreaded strapping on their work boots and putting in an honest night’s effort against the Black and Gold, but that went away faster than Gagne’s two third-period goals that buried the Bruins.
The concern is obviously that the Bruins built themselves a seemingly impregnable lead in the Eastern Conference standings and — in typical human nature form — got a bit comfortable and complacent with their place in the standings. The switch was turned off for a bit during the dog days of the NHL season, but now the group as a whole is having major problems flipping the correct switch back on for a consistent 60 minutes of Bruins-type effort.
The whole “on/off switch” phenomenon is risky business for a hockey team with only 18 games left in the season, and some major playoff expectations ahead of them. The B’s leadership needs to straighten out the slack and get everyone playing with the same impassioned intensity that helped the Spoked B jump out to such a masterful start.
“I think tonight it was really evident that it was an emotionless game,” said Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference. “If you are somebody from the outside watching our team right now, I don’t see a lot of character you can really identify with. That’s been a huge part of our success for the last little while.
“I think we just need to wake up and snap out of it … it’s March,” added Ference. “I think it’s natural for certain periods of slump through the year; that is just the ebb and flow. You have to make an effort to get out of it. It doesn’t just happen on its own. I think it has to be nipped in the bud.”
Injury Ward: Petteri Nokelainen has been cleared for contact and will return to practice at Ristuccia Arena on Wednesday morning. Milan Lucic is still considered day-to-day with an upper body injury. Everyone seemed healthy and accounted for in the postgame dressing room.
Player of the Game: Easily has to be Simon Gagne with his two goals in the third period, and the general dominance of that line against the Bruins defense. That’s as hard a time as the B’s defense has had against anyone this season. Gagne is also a great model for Patrice Bergeron, as the Flyers forward conquered concussion issues to once again regain his status as a dominant player in the NHL. Bergeron scored for the B’s again, and has also flashed his formerly dominant game. Also give credit to Matt Hunwick, who was credited with six hits and again looked pretty at home as a first-line forward.
Goat Horns: As stated before, Zdeno Chara was on the ice for each of the Flyers’ four goals and wasn’t able to fill the key defensive stopper role that the Bruins Captain usually relishes. Big Z did step up and defend Michael Ryder when he was crunched by Scott Hartnell in the second period, and for that he deserves some credit. But a -3 with only one official hit is a forgettable night for the towering blueliner.
“Winning the races and battles for the pucks, we got away from it,” said Chara. “We need to find it again.”
Turning Point: The Flyers’ players were all pointing to goaltender Antero Nittymaki’s second period glove save of a David Krejci shot as the moment when Philadelphia began gaining the upper hand. Michael Ryder had worked the puck out of the corner and skipped it back toward the Philly net. The puck passed through a series of sticks and skates, and Krejci found himself all alone at the doorstep. Krejci paused a moment and then flipped a shot toward the top of the night. Nittymaki snared the puck out of mid-air and robbed Boston’s playmaker of a sure score.
|Two goals by Gagne in third sink the Bruins||03.03.09 at 9:03 pm ET|
17:38: A pretty Simon Gagne tip of a long Andrew Alberts bomb from the right point beat Manny Fernandez and has given the Flyers a 2-1 lead. Gagne made a nice play to fend of Aaron Ward in front before reaching up to redirect the wrist shot. The score came after heavy pressure by Daniel Briere and Mike Knuble around the Boston net.
14:07: A great night for the Mike Knuble/Mike Richards/Gagne connection as Gagne flipped a no-look, backhanded pass to Knuble in the slot, and big body rifled a shot through Fernandez’s five-hole to make it a 3-1 lead for the Flyers.
4:28: Holding the stick penalty for Chuck Kobasew after some decent pressure in the third period for the Bruins. The B’s infraction combined with the two-goal deficit makes this a severely uphill climb over the next four minutes.
3:34: Another goal for Gagne, this one of the power play variety, and the Bruins Faithful are pouring out of the Garden with the game seemingly out of reach. Something about Boston and the name Gagne just doesn’t seem to mix, does it?
The Flyers have a 3-1 lead over the B’s with 3:45 to go in the third.
|Fernandez gives up a softie to make it a 1-1 hockey game||03.03.09 at 8:06 pm ET|
18:11: Scottie Upshall ties it up for the Flyers when he walks in on the left side of Manny Fernandez and flips a puck off his right shoulder and into the net. Not exactly what the Bruins are looking for if Fernandez is potentially headed to Buffalo through Phoenix in a rumored three-way deal. The goal was strictly soft-serve.
13:03: Some Old Time Hockey for the B’s as Zdeno Chara plants a quick cross-check and right-hand jab on the kisser of Philly agitator Scott Hartnell after Hartnell smoked Michael Ryder with an open-ice in the Flyers D zone. Chara then tangled with 6-foot-5 Braydon Coburn when the big Flyers defenseman came calling for Big Z. Chara, Hartnell and Braydon Coburn have all gone to the box, with Chara slapped for a double minor roughing that has given the Flyers a power play.
4:20: Solid Fernandez save with the Flyers Jeff Carter making a short-handed rush up the ice and leveling a forehand bid at MF. Carter is an impressive combo of size and speed, and he absolutely blew Patrice Bergeron’s doors off in a race to the Boston net.
2:36: A near score by Byron Bitz as he rattled the crossbar on a long rebound attempt, but Antero Nittymaki did his best dead fish from Finland impersonation and flopped on the puck before Stephane Yelle could knock it between the pipes.
The B’s and Flyers are tied at 1-1 with 2:05 to go in the second period.
|Red-hot Bergeron puts Bruins on top with power play strike||03.03.09 at 7:22 pm ET|
Interesting news out of Toronto that both Crimson maffia member Dominic Moore and 6-foot-6 Nik Antropov aren’t dressing for the Maple Leafs the night prior to the NHL trade deadline, but tonight is all about the Bruins/Flyers action at the TD Banknorth Garden.
There was a quick scrum just minutes into the game between the two hard-nosed hockey clubs, and it didn’t take long for Zdeno Chara to dump Flyers forward Mike Richards to the ground during a quick dump in attempt.
15:15: the B’s had the first power play opportunity and looked sharp on the man advantage, with the B’s almost scoring on a Chuck Kobasew rebound attempt from the slot area.
8:06: Breathtaking save by Antero Nittymaki on a David Krejci forehand attempt from the doorstep. Krejci picked up the puck and tossed it airborne, but Nittymaki was able to snatch the puck out of the air and take away a certain Bruins goal.
5:36: Patrice Bergeron continues to make a second half resurgance, and put the B’s on the board first with a sizzling power play strike from the left faceoff dot from a crisp, one-time pass by Zdeno Chara.
The Bruins are leading the Flyers by 1-0 score through one period of play.
|Big, Bad Looch out for Bruins tonight, Nokelainen cleared for contact||03.03.09 at 12:22 pm ET|
B’s left winger Milan Lucic will miss his second straight game tonight with an “upper body injury” suffered during last Thursday against the Anaheim Ducks, and is still day-to-day with the injury. The medical issue with Lucic is believed to be a minor jaw/concussion-type issue that originally made him questionable for tonight, and he’ll remain a possibility for Thursday night against the Coyotes.
The versatile Matt Hunwick is expected to move up again from his defenseman position and will skate with Marc Savard and Phil Kessel on the top line against the Philadelphia Flyers.
“He won’t play tonight, but he’s certainly day-to-day and doing better,” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “We’ll probably get Matt (Hunwick) again to play wing. His speed is certainly an asset up there, but he’s also not afraid to go to the dirty areas.”
Fourth line grinder Petteri Nokelainen was also cleared for contact by doctors this morning after suffering a nasty eye injury following an uncalled high-sticking infraction against the San Jose Sharks back on Feb. 10. Nokelainen took a stick to the right eye — and just above the eye — and is still taking eye-drop medication that is slightly blurring his vision. But the Finnish forward expects his vision to eventually improve back to 100 percent after getting the happy news Tuesday morning from a team of eye specialists.
“It was unbelievable,” said Nokelainen. “All of the news is positive and everything is coming back at 100 percent, so I’m really, really happy. With the two eyes, I can’t even tell the difference any more. I can see perfectly again.
“I’ve been able to skate and get my conditioning back, and now it’s up to the coach’s choice whether I play in a game or not,” added Nokelainen. “The next step is to play in a game.”
–Julien said that he understands the level of uncertainty and uneasiness that comes with the NHL trade deadline approaching tomorrow afternoon, but the players were loose enough to pull an old funny one with Claude the coach this morning. Players hooted and hollered that their head coach must have been traded when Julien was a few minutes tardy skating out onto the ice for this morning’s skate at the TD Banknorth Garden.
“I think I came on to the ice a couple of minutes and the players were saying that I was the one that had been traded, so they’re willing to joke about it and stuff,” said Julien. “They hear the same rumors as everybody else and they just go about their jobs. I think that’s a good way to approach it.”
No word on how loudly Chuck Kobasew, Mark Stuart and Phil Kessel were pushing the Julien trade rumors out there.
Trade whispers continue to gain volume around a depth defenseman (Derek Morris, Jordan Leopold) that could slot into the fifth or sixth spot in the lineup and a gritty forward capable of providing the little things needed amidst the long seven-game Stanley Cup battles.
“Everybody knows that if you get moved from one place to another that you’ll obviously miss your teammates, but you adjust to a new place,” added Julien. “The worst thing is you keep moving your families around, and there’s a lot of things attached to a trade that make it tough. Right now, we’ve got something good going on, and everybody in that dressing room wants to be a part of it.”
|Don Cherry giving Byron Bitz some props||03.03.09 at 12:40 am ET|
A big smile quickly appeared on big Byron Bitz as he worked his way through the Bruins dressing room Monday morning at their practice facility in Wilmington, and rightfully so. The fourth-line grinder has made quite the healthy impression with his hockey smarts — something the Bruins scouting staff prides themselves on being able to spot — and gritty big man’s game, and those skills led the 6-foot-5 rookie to be featured during Hockey Night in Canada’s Coach’s Corner on TSN Saturday night.
Canada’s favorite hockey mouthpiece, dandy Don Cherry, started out in fine Grapes form by calling him “Byron Blitz” and then praised him as a good Saskatoon boy while showing some of the highlights from his successful two months in Black and Gold. The big-boned winger started out as a welcome banger with ideal size and strength along Boston’s fourth line, but Bitz has begun flashing some offensive skills over the last few weeks and has something that the B’s could always use: size, strength and steely fearlessness when it comes to throwing his big body into the areas of peril around the ice.
“At first he’s playing not to make mistakes when he gets here, and once he gets his confidence level and some games under his belt, he starts showcasing a little bit more of what he has, and that’s what I’ve been saying the last little while,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien of his big forward. “I think once this guy gets more experienced and more confidence under his belt, he’s going to score us some goals here and there, and he’s starting to show that right now.”
Bitz has three goals in his last three games, and has found lamp-lighting glory with tips and strong stick work in front of the net, a dogged willingness to chase loose pucks and rebounds around the net and an opportunistic approach when a crashing lane toward the net materializes before him. The 24-year-old has been the perfect big-bodied compliment to bare knuckles winger Shawn Thornton and center Stephane Yelle on Boston’s fourth line, but a little Coach’s Corner love had to be the – pun completely intended – cherry on top for “a good Saskatoon boy”.
It certainly looks as if Big Byron has carved himself a man-sized niche on this Bruins roster.
Here’s the full Coach’s Corner segment from Saturday, and stick around to watch Cherry’s ridiculous pro-Canada, anti-Russia rant about Alex Ovechkin’s boisterous celebrations following the goals that he scores. Hate to break it Don, but oversized personalities like Ovechkin and, yes, even Sean Avery are exactly what this game needs more of if it hopes to keep growing worldwide. Aside from that, the obvious Don Cherry bromance with Sidney Crosby is a little disturbing.
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