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Neely on D&H: Olympic hockey ‘doesn’t really promote the NHL’

02.26.10 at 5:13 pm ET
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Bruins vice president Cam Neely joined Dale & Holley from Vancouver Friday afternoon to talk Olympic hockey, the NHL and the state of the Bruins.

 Neely said he does not think the two-week layoff for the Olympics 
is a good thing for the NHL as a whole. “It doesn’t really promote the 
NHL,” he said. “The individual players get recognition, obviously the 
countries as a team get recognition, but it’s not so much for us.”

Neely also commented on the game’s international rules, chiefly those 
against fighting: “I still like the intimidation factor of, ‘If 
I do something, is this guy going to drop his gloves?’ I think it gives 
you some checks and balances there.”

Neely discussed a potential USA-Canada rematch in Sunday’s Olympic 
final. 
Though Neely thinks Canada has the more talented team on paper, the 
play of U.S. goalie Ryan Miller has caught his eye. “Even though Canada 
might have an advantage, I think, if they both play their best, that 
goaltender is an unbelievable goaltender in [Ryan] Miller,” he said. 
“If he plays like he has this whole tournament, he is going to be tough 
to beat.”

Neely touched on the Bruins’ prospects as they come back from the 
break, starting with a game at TD Garden against the Montreal Canadiens 
Tuesday. Neely said that the Bruins need to get Tim Thomas back into 
shape since he has sat behind Miller at the Olympics. He also said 
that he has been surprised by the team’s lack of offensive punch this 
season. “One thing that they are not doing that I thought they would be 
doing is scoring more,” he said. “I’ve never seen a team that I’ve been 
associated with that one year everybody has a really good year and the 
next year most of those same players are having an off year at the same 
time.”

Neely added that he saw the team turning things around in its 
last four games before the break and that he expects big things from 
David Krejci in the last few weeks. “Watching him here, he is playing 
the way we thought he would play, and hopefully that carries over when 
he comes back to Boston.”

A full transcript of the interview is below. To listen, click here.

You are in an interesting position. Who are you rooting for if it comes down to USA vs. Canada?

Well, the Canadian in me runs deep even though I was fortunate enough to become an American citizen, which I am very proud of. But the Canadian in me runs deep.

You see the physical commitment of these guys — and they aren’t getting paid — and you say, “Well that’s what hockey players are like.”

Right, but I think they are doing all right with the financial part though.

Well, they are all doing fine in real life.

Yeah, you are right. I did an interview out here and someone asked me about the difference between the NBA players in the Olympics and the NHL players in the Olympics and how they seemed more passionate. And my response was, “Well, you are talking about hockey players.”

Do you think it is a good idea for the NHL to stop play for a couple of weeks and have players in the Olympics? Is this the best thing for the league?

For the league, I don’t think it is. Obviously as a former player I certainly would have loved an opportunity to play in the Olympics, but my real dream was to play in the NHL as it is with most North American players. Most North American players say, “Well, my dream is to play in the NHL.” As we’ve seen with the last few Olympics, they’ve had an opportunity to play in the Olympics, which is another great thing. But now being on the other side and seeing how your league shuts down for two weeks, especially in markets in the states where football is now done and you have an opportunity to get more exposure for your team in your market, I just don’t see how it is a benefit for the team or the league itself.

How about publicity?

Well, it doesn’t really promote the NHL, though. The individual players get recognition, obviously the countries as a team get recognition, but it’s not so much for us. I don’t think they can really quantify how this is beneficial to our game. Having said that, obviously in Canada here people are going to watch hockey anyway, and now even more so they are tuning in. And in the U.S. especially with the last game against Canada I know it was huge ratings. But once the Olympics are done, are all those people going to continue to watch NHL hockey?

Do you think that there will be a spike in the attendance numbers or ratings for the last six weeks of the NHL season because of this?

If I’m watching Slovakia, for instance, and we have [Zdeno] Chara on there, are people going to say, “I haven’t seen Chara yet, I’m going to go to a game”? You know what I mean by that? So, I’m not really sure. I certainly hope that would be the case. I hope that some maybe casual fans became bigger fans because of the Olympics, maybe some people who maybe weren’t even fans of hockey said, “Hey, this really is a great sport.” Become fans of the game and start going to hockey games or tuning in on TV. I hope that happens for sure.

Do you sit there watching the games holding your breath the whole time as an executive of the team?

That’s a big thing, Dale, you’re right. Obviously our best players are at the Olympics and you talk about, “Jeez, I hope they just get out of here healthy.” It would be awful for our team, it would be awful for our fans — not just us, but any team — if somebody goes down for two, three, four, five weeks because of something that happened at the Olympics. That’s the thing that all the GMs and owners worry about for sure.

Do you think international hockey — Olympic hockey — could survive in the NHL?

I think it would be difficult. Listen, I’m a big fan of our game and I’m a traditionalist at heart and I still like the intimidation factor of if I do something, is this guy going to drop his gloves? I think it gives you some checks and balances there. I think in the Olympics, in a short term like this, you are not going to have it. But if you talk over an 82-game schedule where guys don’t have to worry about some guy popping them, you are going to see an entirely different type of hockey and everyone and their grandmother all of a sudden is going to be a tough guy.

I think the maximum amount of what you can spend as a NHL franchise is something around $56 million. If you added up the total salaries of Team Canada, it is $128 million. Team USA is $85 million. You are showing a product to fans that the NHL can’t duplicate.

Well, yeah, they are not going to see this. It would be like taking the NHL All-Star team and saying, “OK, you are a team, go play 82 games and the playoffs.” That’s not going to happen; you’re not going to have that type of lineup, there is just no way that is possible. Back in the day before the salary cap, the [New York] Rangers, Detroit [Red Wings] and [Philadelphia Flyers], they were spending $70 [million] to $80 million while other teams like Nashville [Predators] were spending $20 million. You aren’t going to be able to get that type of lineup with $60 million, either.

One of the gutsiest moves has been [Canada coach Mike] Babcock’s decision to bench Martin Brodeur and go with Roberto Luongo. What do you think of that move?

Well, you know they had to do something after that game. Marty is a world-class goaltender; he looked a little shaky. But you know you are going to have to do something, especially in Vancouver with Luongo on the bench. I think it is one of those decisions that could be a great decision and everyone is happy or if he doesn’t do it and things don’t turn out, he would just get ripped apart. Having Luongo as your backup isn’t a bad thing and he came in and did a good job. But you know, the Canadians completely dominated Russia. It didn’t even come down to goaltending.

The first period that I saw Canada play against Russia the other night might be the best period of hockey I’ve ever seen.

You’re right. It was an amazing first period of hockey. These guys were on a mission and they were playing the way everybody thought they could play and should play to win this tournament. They’re big, they’re strong, they’re fast; they just completely dominated. But the difference is I think the U.S. defense is better than the Russian’s defense. So I think that is where Canada just completely owned them. Once they got the puck in deep, Russia just couldn’t handle them.

If they both play their best game, what kind of game would you expect?

If both teams played their best, I think it would be a relatively low-scoring game. Even though Canada might have an advantage, I think, if they both play their best, but that goaltender is an unbelievable goaltender in [Ryan] Miller. If he plays like he has this whole tournament, he is going to be tough to beat. But Canada, I think overall on paper, they are a better hockey club than the States. But Miller has played extremely well here and he has played well all year.

You are going to be having somebody play Sunday night [in the Olympic final]. Are they going to be looking to play Tuesday night as well?

I certainly hope so. I mean, we would certainly expect them to be playing. We would need them to be playing. We are fighting for a playoff spot here, so I would certainly hope they would be playing.

How do you get Tim Thomas into some kind of game shape? He hasn’t played in almost a month.

Yeah, I’m sure Claude [Julien] and Peter [Chiarelli] have been talking about, “We need to get him back in net, here.” He is certainly getting a lot of pucks thrown at him in practice here with the U.S. team, but we need Tim to play the way he is capable of playing We’ve got to get him back in there soon. I imagine that is what Claude is thinking.

What is the one thing this team is doing that you didn’t think they would be doing?

One thing that they are not doing that I thought they would be doing is scoring more. I’ve never seen a team that I’ve been associated with that has one year were everybody has a really good year and the next year most of those same players are having an off year at the same time. I haven’t seen anything like it, and that is what we are going through this year. We’ve had a lot of guys have down years from last year and at the same time coupled with key players getting hurt. Having said that, the last four games going into the Olympic break guys appeared to be coming out of it. [David] Krejci has played fantastic here so I’m really looking for him to step up his game when he gets back with us in Boston. This experience for the guys that are here is really going to give them so much more confidence. Even though Patrice [Bergeron] isn’t playing much, to be around all these great players and practicing with those guys is certainly going to help him. I think that is the main thing, having that many guys have off years at the same time.

Krejci is the guy for me too, Cam. As I watch this tournament, I hope that this serves a springboard for him because up to this point his year has been a little bit of a disappointment.

You know, he came back earlier than expected from offseason surgery and is it one of those things were he came back a little too early? His linemates certainly weren’t playing the way they did last year as a group, so that has taken away from him as a centerman. But he hasn’t played as well as we expected him to play, as he expected to play. But watching him here, he is playing the way we thought he would play and hopefully that carries over when he gets back to Boston as I mentioned.

Were the Canadian players feeling the pressure of being on the Olympic hockey team in the country of Canada?

I would think that would be the case, Dale. You come into Canada, you’re on home soil with the one sport that the Canadians as a country just completely love and have so much passion for. Everyone is expecting them to play well and win, and everybody kind of overlooked the fact that, “Wait a second minute, there are other great countries that are playing the sport right now.” It’s not like it used to be and I think that early on they felt those pressures. The best thing that happened to them was that Germany game where they say, “Oh my god, we have to win this game.” And they came out and played extremely well and got all those goals and got some confidence to say, “Hey, we are a good team here.” But yeah, I think the fact that they are on home soil and that the expectations were so high, I think that did put a little extra pressure on them.

Recchi leads by example

02.26.10 at 1:11 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — It was your typical late-season practice at Ristuccia Arena on Friday. The Bruins did some battle drills, some rebound drills, shooting drills with the foam pads. For the most part it is a matter of getting their work in, back to full speed after a week-and-a-half watching the Olympics.

Towards the end of the session the Bruins forwards worked on rebound drills in front of the net. Veteran Mark Recchi looked to be taking the lead in the drill, as well he should. With 1550 career NHL games and 557 goals, Recchi knows how what it takes to make a living in the crease.

“Yeah, you look at what he does and since the first day that he was here, the thing he does so well is he stands and he is a good screener in front of the net and gets a good tip in front of the net. What he does is he stands right in front of the goaltender and he is right in front of the goalie’s face and you always give yourself a good chance to score when you do that.”

With all his experience, Recchi is the perfect type of tutor for the younger players on the roster learning the nuances of what it takes for a good screen. Recchi, for his part, is not all that vocal as a mentor. He trusts that the younger guys will see what he does and mimic the veteran’s movements.

“You don’t even really have to ask him, you just look and see what he is doing and that is why he has as many goals as he does,” Lucic said. “I think he has told me and [Wheeler] and other guys how he does it and it is kind of nice to learn from someone like him to see how it is done.”

Recchi agrees that he is more of a leader by example than a vocal presence.

“They come and work at it,” Recchi said. “It is not so much talking but a matter of working. You have to be willing to go there and they actually have been unbelievable at it and have gotten a lot of those little goals because of it.”

Recchi said the trick to being successful in front of the net is developing a lack of fear.

“Yeah, you can’t be afraid,” Recchi said. “You are going to get hit with pucks, whatever. We got got great defensemen who try to hit it smart. Sometimes you are going to get slashed or cross-checked. You have to be willing to pay the price to go there. A lot of the time it is not even creating tips. It is rebounds, creating traffic, creating some other opportunities for other guys. That is one thing you have to think about. It is not about you it is also about all the other guys.”

Coach Claude Julien sees the work that Recchi puts in with the younger guys and appreciates having a veteran like that on the roster.

“That is what you hope to see,” Julien said. “You hope that your veteran players, especially a guy like Mark who has been around the block not once, but probably a few times, you know. He has been good with the kids. He is willing to share his knowledge and he is willing to share also what he would have wanted to know when he was that age and I think that has really helped our young players to be a little more hungry and willing to learn the things that sometimes you don’t always want to learn.”

Standing in front of the net is not an easy job in the NHL but Recchi has a way about him that proves contagious to the rest of the players.

“Coaches will always say, you know, when you can get your team to do some things that they may not like doing but they know will make us better, that is when you know you have your team going in the right direction,” Julien said. “I think that is part of what Mark does with some of those guys. It is like ‘hey, it is not fun to stand in front of the net and you may not like it, but if that is what is going to give you success then you should be willing to do it.’ That is what he has done and he has shared those tidbits with the players and it has been good.”

Does Lucic see a career as a coach in Recchi’s future?

“Yeah, I definitely think so,” Lucic said. “He knows the game, he is smart and, you know, he has played in every situation so he knows what it is like. I think definitely he could make a pretty good coach some day.”

For his part, Recchi has no interest in being a coach on the professional level. He owns 12.5 percent of the Kamloops Blazers in his native British Columbia and partners with other NHL players such as Jerome Iginla. Coaching may not be in Recchi’s future but that does not mean he will leave hockey behind.

“No coach,” Recchi said. “Maybe my kid. My boys is eight and maybe I would coach him. I like the management part more than I like the coaching part. I would like to build a team more than [coaching] them. I am part owner of the Kamloops Blazers so, I am able to watch it and be part of something like that, be part of some of the juniors teams. So, you know, we will see. I would like to get involved in organization at some point and kind of see where it goes from there. Before that I want to take time and see my kids and my family and see where it goes from there and figure it out. It intrigues me and something that I would really like to do but it is also very time consuming.”

Friday participation by sweater color:

White — Daniel Paille, Marc Savard, Mark Recchi

Grey — Blake Wheeler, Vladimir Sobotka, Michael Ryder

Red — Byron Bitz, Steve Begin, Milan Lucic, Shawn Thornton

Defensemen — Dennis Wideman, Andrew Ference, Mark Stuart, Matt Hunwick, Derek Morris, Johnny Boychuk

Goaltenders — Tuukka Rask, Matt Dalton

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Ference: Time to go to war

02.25.10 at 7:04 pm ET
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Tying up the loose ends from practice. Andrew Ference is ready for the stretch run, Milan Lucic got to take in the festivities in downtown Vancouver and Claude Julien gives his thoughts on the break and the Olympics.

Ference was not sure if he was going to be able to play before the break but with Johnny Boychuk taking a puck to the face before the four-game road trip, he was pressed into duty sooner than he had envisioned. It took him a game or so to get back into the swing of things but said that he was ready to go.

“It was good. We didn’t have any back-to-back games, which was good. Had a chance to recover the next day and everything was good. Plus, we won, which makes a big difference,” Ference said.

Ference said his body held up well and it was just a matter of regaining his timing.

“They definitely had me ready to play. It wasn’t a situation where it made anything worse. It was just a matter of regaining the timing but everything worked,” Ference said “The first game I was pretty conservative. Just made sure that I didn’t get into any bad situations. Just the reaction time  and being a little slower but just getting that first game out of the way and getting back to normal.”

The Bruins are as healthy now as they have been all season which will be a big benefit in the frenetic pace that will be the final month-and-a-half of the regular season. Ference said that it is not a time to hold back.

“I don’t think anybody is feeling sorry because it is going to be the same for every single guy in the league,” Ference said. ” We knew that going into this year, you know, everything Olympic year is tight,” Ference said. “That whole playoff run, so, you obviously have to take care of yourself and keep yourself in good health. Other than that you just have to go to war. You can’t try to conserve yourself or stay out of trouble during the game. You have to go full on, it’s a battle and on the rest days you rest. You rest hard.”

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Read More: Andrew Ference, Claude Julien, Milan Lucic,

Bruins breakdown: The top pair

02.25.10 at 2:00 pm ET
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The breakdown at the break continues and this time we are moving onto the men commissioned with keeping pucks away from the crease. Since Claude Julien took over behind the bench for Boston defense has been the name of the game in The Hub. Considering the Bruins scoring woes this year the only thing that has kept them in contention has been their ability to limit opponents chances.

Boston is fourth in the league in goals against with 2.42 and one of the reasons behind this is that its captain, Zdeno Chara, happens to be the reigning Norris Trophy winner. If a high tide raises all ships then a towering defenseman buoys all blue liners. We will also take a look at his partner, Derek Morris.

Note – Slight change in schedule. Will be doing the top defensive pairing Thursday then the other two pairings on Friday.

Chara — The questions about Chara are two-fold. One, how is he so good? Two, how do you quantify how good he actually is?

The first question has an easy answer — at 6-foot 9-inches and 255 pounds he is physically dominant on the ice. He skates well, has a long stick that he employs judiciously and, for the most part, has good positioning. Watch Chara play and it is easy to see why he is one of the best. Quantifying his play with advanced statistics is a little harder.

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Read More: Derek Morris, Zdeno Chara,

Boychuck, Stuart and Bruins back to work

02.25.10 at 12:40 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — Most of the Bruins have had two weeks to get healthy and clear their heads during the Olympic break before the final stretch of that will determine whether there will be spring hockey in The Hub. The players were happy to get back to hockey related activities on Thursday at Ristuccia Arena and are gearing up for the stretch run into April. When the regular season resumes on March 2 the Bruins will be on a furious pace as the final 22 games will be played in 41 days with only one break longer than one day between games.

“I can’t think of a better way to get back into it than to just jump in and play a bunch of games,” Mark Stuart said. “Looking at our schedule, it is every other day. But, it is going to be fun. It is going to be a month-and-a-half long Olympic tournament it seems like. Just playing every other day. But, the position we are in, we have to win a lot of games. It is going to feel like the playoffs, I think and that is always fun when it feels like that. We are looking forward to it.

Defenseman Johnny Boychuk was back at practice for the first time since breaking his orbital bone when he took a puck to the face in the Bruins’ last home game before the break against Vancouver. He wore a visor and participated in the full workout. Fellow blue liner Stuart also skated for the first time since breaking a finger in a fight with the Kings’ Wayne Simmonds on Jan. 30 which required surgery on Feb. 1.

“I got the cast off on Tuesday, so that was a good feeling,” Stuart said. “It is just a matter of getting some of the stiffness out. I have got to get the hands and stuff going and I am not going to push the shooting too much right away. I will probably give it a couple of days, and passing and stuff like that was good.”

Stuart said the the break was not due to an impact of his hand on Simmonds or the ice but rather that he grabbed the jersey and torqued the finger in during the fight. He said that he will probably wear protective gear on the hand “for a bit” but does not seem overly concerned about his prospects for the rest of the season.

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Bruins breakdown: The fast lane

02.24.10 at 12:22 pm ET
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We continue our Bruins breakdown at the break with the men in the passing lane. On Monday the centers got their attention and Tuesday was for the men riding shotgun. Wednesday is for the men who like to skate fast and hit hard — the left wings.

The group is split by two players who like to let their speed make statements, Marco Sturm and Daniel Paille, and two men who often let their fists do the talking, Milan Lucic and Shawn Thornton.

On Thursday we will look at the top three defensemen on the roster and the three back blue liners on Friday before finishing up with the goaltending situation on Saturday.

Without further ado  . . . .

Sturm — Last September the Big Bad Blog took a look at what Sturm would mean to the Bruins offense this year. The idea was that Sturm would be able to fill in the goal-scoring production of the departed Phil Kessel and, if the rest of the team played to its 2008-09 levels, then the Bruins would still be near the top of the leading in scoring.

So much for that.

Last season the Bruins were second in the league in scoring with 3.29 goals per game, almost all of which was done without Sturm because of a knee injury. This year the Bruins have receded to below 2006-07 and 2007-08 levels when they scored 2.56 and 2.51 goals per game, respectively. At 2.35 goals per game this season the Bruins are dead last in the NHL in scoring with the next closest team (Edmonton at 2.43) almost a full tenth of a point ahead of them.

Call it the curse of Sturm.

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Read More: Daniel Paille, Marco Sturm, Milan Lucic, Shawn Thornton

Bruins breakdown: Riding shotgun

02.23.10 at 12:33 pm ET
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On Monday we took a closer look at the Bruins centers, Tuesday is time for the men riding shotgun — the right wingmen.

This group of forwards includes Blake Wheeler, Mark Recchi, Michael Ryder, Miroslav Satan and Byron Bitz. Note that for the sake of breakdown this group is demarcated by official roster designation, not where the player always plays on the ice. For instance, when Wheeler and Ryder are on the same line, as they often are, it will usually be Wheeler who jumps to the left side.

So, let’s take a look at what is cooking on the right side of the aisle. On Wednesday we will look at their left wing counterparts.

Ryder — Is there any other player on the Bruins roster (outside of Tim Thomas currently) who is more persona non grata than Ryder? He was a productive player in Montreal but ended up in Guy Carbonneau’s doghouse and his production suffered. He then came to Boston to reunite with Claude Julien with the hope of regaining his spark. It is not the first time that a player has jumped from Hab to Hub (or vice versa) but, really, two Original Six teams with rabid, unforgiving fan bases one right after the other? No pressure there.

There are a few factors that are always sure to set fans off regarding particular players. One is being a high paid player who does not produce. Another is being a top six forward who in a scoring slump. The third, and most pertinent in this case, is not living up to expectations.

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Read More: Blake Wheeler, Byron Bitz, Mark Recchi, Michael Ryder
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