|09.29.09 at 10:43 am ET|
Before last year, it had been a while since the Hub of Hockey could say that its team was a legitimate offensive powerhouse in the National Hockey League. In 2006-07 the Bruins finished with 210 goals (2.56 per game), ranking them 25th in the league. The 2007-08 team was slightly worse, with 206 goals (2.51 per game), ranking 24th in the league, as Boston captured the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, due mostly to its tough, defensive-minded game plan.
Last season? The Northeast Division champions finished second in the league with 270 goals (3.29 per game) and regularly abused opposing goaltenders. They did so with a mixture of ascending youth (Phil Kessel, Blake Wheeler, Milan Lucic) and crafty veterans (Marc Savard, Zdeno Chara, Mark Recchi), finishing the campaign with astounding balance as seven players finished with more than 20 goals (six if you do not count Recchi’s 13 goals with the Tampa Bay Lightning before being acquired at the trade deadline). Chara and Lucic both came close to 20 (19 and 17, respectively).
It was all done without Marco Sturm.
The veteran wingman figured to be an important part of Boston’s goal-scoring mix going into last season, balancing the production between the proven producers and the aspiring young guns. Yet, because of injuries, Sturm’s force never materialized. He had been a staple in the the B’s scheme in those offensively challenged years (27 goals in each of 2006-07 and 2007-08) yet tallied only seven last year in 19 games before going down with a knee injury on Dec. 19 against Toronto. He went from the player kids idolized before the season with “The Perfect Sturm” posters to the quintessential Forgotten Man. One would be hard pressed to find many Sturm posters floating around TD Garden this time around.
Through the frustration of last season, Sturm stayed active with the team. It would have been easy to hide in the rehab room and disappear to the Land of The Lost, but he did not. He supported his teammates all year to the point where he actually designed the “Stay Hungry” hats that were the trademark of the Bruins’ postseason run. That is in the past, though. It is a new season, and Sturm is ready to go come opening night on Thursday against the Washington Capitals.
“It feels great. You know, it was a long time ago that I played to this crowd, so I really look forward to Thursday night and hopefully a good start,” Sturm said.
The big question for the Bruins this year is how to replace Kessel and his 36 goals after the young winger was traded to Toronto. The answer comes in a couple of variations, but it looks like Boston’s front office is counting on Sturm to make up for at least part of the slack. Mix the 31-year-old wingman with gains made by the young corps, and Boston probably will have the firepower to stay near the top of the league in the lamp-lighting category this year.
“We are confident with the team that we have here, no doubt,” coach Claude Julien said during media day on Monday at the TD Garden. “We have Marco Sturm back and healthy, so as a group we are a strong team. We feel stronger as well with some young guys having matured and Marco Sturm in.”
It appears that at the beginning of the year Sturm will be a direct fill-in for Kessel on the right wing of the first line with the Savard (center) and Lucic (left wing). Sturm plays a similar game to Kessel ‘ both are speedsters, have a good shot and have a nose for the back of the net. Savard is excited to give the pairing a shot.
“We lost Sturm all of last season and it looks like he is going to start on wing with us, so we are excited to have him,” Savard said. “He brings a ton of speed, like Kessel had, and he can finish when he has the opportunity. We are excited for that, we have a good mix and hopefully we can produce those goals that we are going to lose. It is going to have to come from a lot of people and I think we are capable.”
Sturm will have to earn it, though. No player on Julien-coached teams gets free passes for jobs well done in the past. The right wing spot is probably Sturm’s at the start, but as Julien said, “Nothing is carved in stone.”
“We’d certainly like, to a certain extent, put some speed again on that wing, and [Savard] is good at finding those guys so we will give [the speedsters] a try,” Julien said. “We are going to put the best lines together as we can possibly find and if that means tweaking them and moving them around, we will until we find the right combination. I think right now it is worth having a look at, and Marco has played the off wing before and he feels comfortable there. So, again, there is a guy who hasn’t played in a while, so we have to take that into consideration whether he’s on top of his game or whether he is trying to find it again.”
Make no mistake about it, there will be rust. Not many players in any sport can miss tw0-thirds of a season (as Sturm did last year with his 63 DNPs) and come straight out the next year as if nothing happened. NHL hockey, especially after the lockout and the new rules to open up the ice for skill players, is a flow game. Before going down last year, Sturm had lost his flow, probably due to his balky knee. Despite his plus-9 rating, it appeared that he was out of sync at times, either by making a bad pass or just being out of position.
It will be difficult, at least at the start, to come back as the same player he was in 2007-08. It is hard to get back into mental shape while in the workout room or during the summer. For that matter, Sturm has only played in two preseason games for the Bruins this year (with no goals and two assists). Not that it will stop him from trying to get in rhythm with Savard in the early going.
“You know, obviously with Savvy in the middle, playing on the right side I will have a lot of chances,” Sturm said. “He will give me the puck, so I have to use my speed, use my game, and the puck will come to me, I know that. So I just have to find the rhythm with him, and hopefully we click pretty soon.”
The Bruins feel that they have the talent to compete in the highest tier of the NHL this season and shoot for a Stanley Cup. If Sturm is on top of his game, they just may be right.
|09.29.09 at 10:26 am ET|
Ference was one of the key point people in the controversial ouster of NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly after a long, late-night advisory board meeting in Chicago last month, and he’s been facing a consistent firing line of tough questions in that aftermath since arriving in Boston for B’s training camp several weeks ago.
The Bruins defenseman joined Matt Stajan, Mike Komisarek and Brad Boyes in forming an investigative subcommittee that interviewed NHLPA office employees and looked into allegations that Kelly had broken the spirit of the NHLPA constitution ‘ and therefore was unfit to lead the body of NHL players. There’s been plenty of details involving the unauthorized acquisition of union meeting minutes and cloak-and-dagger subterfuge to stab Kelly in the back behind the scenes, but — like just about everything in life — there’s seems to be three sides to the situation.
There’s a he said/she said element to the dismissal, of course, but there’s also no denying things were running smoothly under Kelly’s leadership and the NHL was gaining back the popularity it frittered away during the lockout in 2004-05.
The investigation of a Ference-led subcommittee evolved into Kelly’s firing after his largely successful two-year run, and it spurred on the placement of general counsel Ian Penney into an interim leadership position within the players’ union. As with any change of leadership in a position of such high visibility, there’s been plenty of tumult in the aftermath of Kelly’s sacking and the murmurs simply aren’t going away with time. There was an NHLPA-sponsored conference call among players on Monday night to discuss process and actions going forward, and perhaps even a bit of a circle-the-wagons type message.
The pro-Kelly camp claims that the hard-working, no-nonsense, Boston-bred Kelly was railroaded by a group of power-hungry individuals within the union, and that the player reps were hoodwinked into making the ultimate choice of removal.
There were certainly plenty of veteran Bruins players looking for answers to the NHLPA situation when training camp began two weeks ago. The bold move to displace Kelly was another in a long line of borderline embarrassing episodes (Ted Saskin, Alan Eagleson etc.) for the hockey players’ union leadership, and some of Ference’s teammates are clearly upset that such a change in the union’s corner office came without any warning or consultation prior to a bleary-eyed 3 a.m. vote on Aug. 31.
Ference had a closed-door meeting with the rest of his teammates about the Kelly fiasco last week that some sources described as ‘heated’ at points, but the 30-year-old blueliner maintained at Monday’s media day session that the NHLPA issues wouldn’t be affecting the team’s unique chemistry off the ice.
The issues were discussed and differences of opinion were listened to and hashed out, said Ference, but there was clearly a difference of opinion in the way things eventually transpired. There remains a disconnect between the 22 player reps voting to sack Kelly/NHLPA execs still remaining with the union infrastructure, and the rank-and-file players left with the unpleasant feeling that a rug had been pulled out from underneath them without their consent or endorsement.
Ference is doggedly sticking to his guns that the union was justified in dismissing Kelly from its top spot, and that hasn’t been a major talking point among the union’s membership in the B’s locker room.
‘There were questions about the timing of it and whether or not we should have waited until [training] camp and we can have a difference of opinion about that,’ said Ference. ‘It doesn’t mean there’s tension or fighting. But the No. 1 thing that’s misrepresented is about whether or not [Kelly] should have been fired.
‘The guys that have the facts say it’s not about that, we agree that [Kelly] had to go. It’s more about the timing and the decision to do it in Chicago instead of training camp. We have very good reasons for that and why we couldn’t wait and why it had to happen based on that meeting. But those are topics that we bring up and it’s a healthy thing to do. But these tensions within the team are a fictional report by a sports reporter. It’s frustrating to read. We talk about it in the locker room and it’s like ‘Gee, where is this coming from?’ It is what it is and it’s ridiculous. But I guess some guys are just going to write what they want to write.’
There are heavy indications that fellow veteran players ‘ with Mark Recchi chief among them ‘ will toss their names into the running for the B’s player rep position when it comes up for reelection in the next few weeks. There’s clearly ‘ at the very least ‘ a level of unhappiness with the way the process played out leading to the bloodless coup in the NHLPA offices.
It seems that some of the more influential veterans within the league are beginning to stand up and take notice, and there may be big alterations in the offing when election time hits for the player rep population.
Unsolicited, Ference admitted that there was a difference of opinion with 41-year-old veteran forward Mark Recchi when it came down to process and the unfortunate timing of the decision. But the defenseman said there was accordance on the one bottom line subject: that the move on Kelly had to be made by the NHLPA’s voting body.
Other than that, the Bruins defenseman said any union disagreements had zilch to do with chemistry on the ice or good vibes within the Bruins’ dressing room. That, Ference said, was much more fiction than fact as his team sits on the cusp of an NHL regular season with the highest of expectations.
‘We have a reporter out there that’s writing down this stuff and it’s a tad ridiculous,’ said Ference. ‘We have a locker room that’s open and we talk about things, and we can have differences of opinion. But it’s out there and we’re open, and that’s what makes our locker room so open and good.
‘But this stuff about [Recchi] confronting [me], and all this other stuff? Rex and I talked about the issues, and the bottom line is that we both agree that Paul Kelly had to go. That’s the stuff that doesn’t get reported. I don’t know if there’s a slanted perspective or some ulterior thing going when the stuff is being written, but the fact is that we do talk about it. It’s healthy to talk about it and we’re men about it. If there’s an issue then we talk about it, put it out in the open and we have good communication about it. Me and Rex talk about this stuff all the time.’
B’s coach Claude Julien was aware of the differing opinions on union matters within the locker room, but didn’t feel like things were going to affect the on-ice chemistry between players arguing over unfair dismissals or advisory boards.
‘You can ask those guys those kinds of questions, but for you’ve got to be able to separate things,’ said Julien. ‘You have troubles at home then you don’t bring them to the rink with you.’
It remains to be seen if any cracks suddenly appear within Boston’s team foundation, but the B’s players would do well to keep the off-ice union issues exactly where they currently reside: away from the ice.
|09.28.09 at 9:28 pm ET|
The Boston Bruins held their pre-season media today this morning. The session started with a press conference panel of owner Jeremy Jacobs, principal owner Charlie Jacobs, head coach Claude Julien, general manager Peter Chiarelli, and vice president Cam Neely. The transcript from the press conference is below.
Pressure to live up to last year’s 116 points within the sports culture of Boston?
Jeremy Jacobs: Simple answer? Yes. There is an expectation on my part and the community at large. I share the same goal, my ambition is to win a Stanley Cup and I think we have the personalities in place from management, coaching and players. So, I look for a great season and will be disappointed if there is anything less than that.
How impressed are you with the brain trust that has been put together in the front office?
Jeremy Jacobs: I think he [Peter Chiarelli] has done a great job. We’ve extended our relationship and our contract and I expect that we are building on something. Every body here [the media] are all totally and justifiably critical when we stumbled at first but we got it going and stayed with it and I think the organization is working really well and I think there are personalities in place to run it.
On sending Brad Marchand and Zach Hamill down and the depth of the organization.
Chiarelli: I think both of them have had tremendous camps and I told Zach this morning that, we had talked about him playing at the rookie tournament and when some of the other guys just didn’t play. That was good thing that he did, you could see it in how he played in the main camp. I said that most importantly it was the work he did in the development camp, the summer camp, so you have to build on it when you go down to Providence. I told him he had a good camp. I told him he has to work on his battles when he goes down low and I thought the speed caught up to him a little bit at the end.
When I talked to Brad I told him that he had a very good camp and that he was on the right track and while his game is always simple, sometimes down in Providence it tended to get a little complicated and we tried to fix that and he tried to fix it during the camp. So, two young kids, both speak well for the future.
Those guys and the guys we assigned down on Saturday. I like our depth here. It is in different sorts, it’s not just a finesse player here or something but players that can fill in different capacities.
On health situation at the start of the year.
Chiarelli: As of today, I haven’t talked to the training staff, but as of today I believe we will be pretty healthy at the start of the year unless something were to happen between now and then. You hear of a lot of these teams with groins and hips and, you know, it was a condensed training camp this year and we had maybe one more game than maybe we wanted to. So, I think Claude [Julien] can speak to this, but I think the off day yesterday was good and I think we will get some productive work in between now and the start of the year.
On having first five games at home.
Julien: Well, first of all I think the first part of the season is probably more important no matter whether you are on the home or on the road than most people think and it’s been brought to our attention every year that teams in good shape on Thanksgiving are usually the teams that end up in the playoffs. So, we are aware of that and the important-cy of getting off to a good start but even more so this year in front of our fans. No doubt the first five games in front of our fans will be crucial in their minds.
Filling Phil Kessel‘s Shoes.
Julien: We are confident with the team that we have here, no doubt. We have Marco Sturm back and healthy so, as a group we are a strong team. We fell stronger as well with some young guys having matured and Marco Sturm in as I mentioned he was out most of last year. David Krejci is ahead of the curve right now and we’re hopefully looking forward to seeing him in the opener. All in all I think our team is in great shape. Tuuka Rask is going to be a great goaltender to support Tim [Thomas].
We’re very confident and I think this Kessel issue for us is in the past and we’re moving forward.
Addition of ECHL Redding team helping the organization.
Chiarelli: We will providing some players there as those who won’t be on Providence. So, anytime you can expand your organization depth wise it’s going to help in the long run. I think we are probably going to provide two or three players there, so, it is a good addition. The last few years we have had east coast affiliates and I think they are affiliated with a couple other teams so they have good staff there and good for the development of our young guys.
On what the race for the conference will look like.
Julien: I am not one to look at these situations as a whole and just sit there and say that we have to be at the top. I think we have to work our way to the top, just like we did last year. There is nothing different except that the challenge will be bigger. There is more respect towards our team this year so obviously there are teams around our conference who are certainly improved. Philadelphia is one of those teams with [Chris] Pronger on the back end, they are certainly going to be a better team. I don’t think I am going to spend all my energy worrying about what’s on the outside. I think it’s important to worry about your back yard and for me it is about the preparation of our team. I have said all along that if teams want to beat us, they are going to have to adapt to us, because we are not going to adapt to others. We play our style of game and we feel confident with it and we will go forward with it as well.
Patrice Bergeron has an extra bounce to his skates this pre-season?
Julien: I think Patrice has taken off where he left off last year. You know, he went through a lot and we were patient and helped him along the way to find his game again but what he went through is something that you don’t want to see again and I think he had a great second half and even the playoffs. I have mentioned that before, he was one of our best forwards in the series. I think he was excited about it when he left here last year and is excited about coming back and I think that is a continuation of what you saw last year.
For someone who has played in the finals twice, what does this team need to do to reach that mark?
Neely: We just need to learn from last year. As a player you learn from the experiences you go through. I think when we got to the finals in 1988 it was the first time for a lot of us to be in the finals and I think a lot of us, including myself, were thrilled to be in the finals. Then, in ‘90, we understood what happened in ‘88 and we don’t look at it like we are excited to be in the finals. You have to remember two years ago, for a lot of our players it was their first time being in the playoffs and a lot of our key players, it was the first time for them. So, the learned from that series and took it a little bit further last year and what I always have these guys try to remember is how it felt to win those games and how it felt to lose that final game and you can learn from that. I think we have a lot of guys that know we should have gone a little deeper than we did and I think they’re hungry to get back to that challenge to go a little deeper.
Will the team be actively searching the waiver wire as the league wide roster cut deadline looms?
Chiarelli: Waiver acquisition that we’d look at? You basically react to that. You have a general idea of who is going to be on and we will look at who is on today. We will see who is up there and I suspect we will see some activity as far as trading players, for teams that are under cap crunches. So, I will be fielding some calls but I don’t anticipate anything happening.
On Versus and Direct TV customers not seeing opening night.
Jeremy Jacobs: I think you are right, it doesn’t look good. The commissioner and everybody in the league office is doing what they can do but the situation is not within our control. We know how unhappy the whole hockey world is. I think the best thing is that everybody should be put on notice that if they want to watch our game with what the circumstances are, if they want to watch our game get to a location where they can see it from. Right now it does not look good to be broadcast. They are moving at glacial speed.
Giving Sturm a try out on the top line with Savard considering how the speedy Kessel played there.
Julien: We’d certainly like, to a certain extent, put some speed again on that wing and Marc is good at finding those guys so we will give those guys a try. Like I mentioned through training camp there is nothing carved in stone. We are going to put the best lines together as we can possibly find and if that means tweaking them and moving them around we will until we find the right combination. I think right now it is worth having a look at and Marco has played the off wing before and he feels comfortable there as well so, again, there is a guy who hasn’t played in a while so we have to take that into consideration whether he’s on top of his game or whether he is trying to find it again.
With the stable situations in the front office and on the ice, what are the tweaking points that could be made during the season?
Chiarelli: Structurally I do not foresee anything. I mean, we always exchange ideas and philosophies where we hope to improve the communication between the management, the coaching staff and the team. We always look to improve. I can’t tell you anything that we haven’t told you already, I know there are some themes that Claude and I have talked about that we want to impress on the team all year. Besides that, I am happy where we are at. We always look to improve but there will nothing really significant from within the management group.
|09.28.09 at 5:40 pm ET|
Boston Bruins Principal Charlie Jacobs announced during Monday’s Bruins Media Day festivities that the club will honor Bruins legendary play-by-play commentator Fred Cusick during the second period of the team’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday, October 3.
During the first media timeout of the second period, the club will dedicate the Bruins home TV broadcast booth to Cusick by renaming it the ‘Fred Cusick Broadcast Booth.’ The club will also install a silver microphone centered in a black and gold frame on the TD Garden’s level 9 faÃ§ade beneath the home TV broadcast booth.
‘His memory will always live in on in the hearts and minds of Bruins fans, and we feel that these permanent dedications to Fred will memorialize and honor his contributions to the Bruins, for fans and media to see,” said Jacobs.
Cusick passed away on September 15, 2009 after serving as the play-by-play commentator for the Bruins for 45 years before retiring in 1997.
|09.28.09 at 2:32 pm ET|
With Zach Hamill and Brad Marchand both dropped down to Providence, it’s expected that David Krejci will be able to skate in Thursday night’s season-opener against the Washington Capitals. Krejci was at his customary position centering a line of Blake Wheeler and Michael Ryder, and B’s coach Claude Julien took as a great sign when his young pivot took part in all drills at practice.
Both Marco Sturm (groin) and Steve Begin (groin) also skated a full practice on Monday morning at the TD Garden, and neither player felt any health restrictions during the session.
“It’s a positive because nobody told me they had to get off [the ice] and they’re doing fine,” said Julien, referencing all three players battling assorted bumps and bruises. “They’re doing fine. Krejci is fine and he’s been practicing with us for close to a week now. The other two guys had small groin issues, and with a day off yesterday ‘ and giving them a few days to heal before that ‘ it’s going to help us Thursday.
“[Krejci] is day-to-day, and I’ll still put him at 50-50 for Thursday. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow. Today was a little more gritty for him at times with 3-on-3 down low. We made sure that guys finished their checks on him and made sure he’ll feel comfortable. I think a lot of it is feeling comfortable [mentally].”
‘¢ Vladimir Sobotka couldn’t keep the smile from his face after learning that he had made the final roster after a training camp effort that improved with each passing day. The young Czech Republic forward pointed to a conversation he had with Julien that helped him relax and begin playing his game ‘ a mix of puck skills and controlled aggression.
“I’m glad I could stay here and get this opportunity. I just have to keep it simple,” Sobotka said. “The last three games I felt less pressure on me and I didn’t put it on myself. I didn’t try to do too much on the ice and it helped me. I wanted to try to score two goals every game, you know, and it wasn’t working.
“[Julien] told me to play like I did two years ago and I’d be good. I try to play without minuses, the coaches don’t like that. Try to score some goals, keep it simple and play my game.”
‘¢ Chris Bourque has made the Washington Capitals’ final roster after a competitive training camp, and he’ll be taking shifts at his hometown rink on Thursday night for the first time as an NHL player.
|09.28.09 at 10:07 am ET|
Bruins rookies Zach Hamill and Brad Marchand were both assigned to the AHL’s Providence Bruins on Monday morning in the final cuts of training camp. Both youngsters showed promise and impressed B’s officials throughout the two-week camp: Marchand had a pair of goals in five games and Hamill potted two goals in six preseason games. Both youngsters should be among the first players recalled should injuries hit the B’s in the first few months of the season.
The two moves are pretty clear indicators that both Vladimir Sobotka has made the team and David Krejci’s surgically repaired hip is pretty close to ready for game action. The moves leave the Bruins with a total of 22 players for the club’s final NHL roster when the regular season opens against the Capitals on Oct. 1.
|09.26.09 at 10:51 pm ET|
With a 4-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets still fresh in his mind, rookie goaltender Tuukka Rask still couldn’t hide his excitement at winning a spot on the Bruins regular season roster Saturday afternoon. The B’s announced that Dany Sabourin was being sent down to Providence prior to the game, and that meant a goalie competition — one that was fairly one-sided – was officially over.
One short season ago Rask had the best camp of any Bruins goaltender, but was busted down to the AHL for seasoning with veterans Thomas and Manny Fernandez on the roster. It was difficult for the 22-year-old to hide his frustration on his way down, but things couldn’t be more opposite this time around as Thomas’ understudy.
“[I'm] really excited,” said Rask. “This is something that I’ve been working toward. I feel for [Sabourin] because I was in the same spot last year. Obviously it’s fun to be here, and I’ve been hoping for it to happen. It’s good that it happened.
“It’s a little different feeling [this year]. You can imagine what it feels like when you have a good camp and then you’re sent down. But if that’s the way things are you’ve got to get over it.”
The young goalie clearly was battling with a fatigued team in front of him playing its sixth game in eight nights, but there were flashes of exactly what he’ll bring to the table this season on Saturday night. He’s bigger and plays a much more silent game between the pipes than his Vezina Trophy-winning partner, and he managed 31 saves against a Blue Jackets team piling on Grade A chances over the final 30 minutes of play.
“When you looked at the way [Tuukka] played in those first few exhibition games, it was clear he had improved a lot from what I saw last year,” said Claude Julien. “Personally from what I saw in the playoffs in Providence the year before, he had collapse a little bit. Especially in that last game.
“Mentally he’s become stronger and physically he’s become stronger and he’s in a lot more control. He’s got a lot more experience and he’s the right fit for us. Tonight, I think he played well. Didn’t have much help in front of him. We’re confident in him, and he’s going to play. We all know Timmy is not a goaltender that will play 70, or 75 games. Tuukka will need to come in and do the job, and we’ll confident in him.”
Rask was never more impressive than when he completely stone-walled Russian sniper Nikita Filatov skating in all alone for golden opportunity in the third period. There was no panic or quick movements, and Rask didn’t allow any holes for Filatov to pick at as he came speeding toward the cage. Rask won’t be required to play any more than 30-35 games in his first season backing up Thomas, but the 6-foot-2, 171-pounder is ready to fill whatever role comes his way.
“I’m really excited for Thursday and to get things going,” said Rask. “We’ve just got to get this train going on the right track. Just get a good start and never look back.
“The job I’m given, I’m going to try the best I can and help this team. You want to do your best and simply help the team. That’s all I can do. I feel like I’ve been this team for two weeks now, and it feels good.”
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