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Sounds of the game… Blues 5, Bruins 4, SO

01.19.09 at 6:40 pm ET
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Just when you thought you knew these Bruins, something like Monday happens. Even teams in the middle of sensational seasons like the Bruins can cough up a lung like the Black and Gold did on Monday. And it was quite the hack.

The Bruins fought back from a 2-1 deficit with a pair of power play goals by Michael Ryder and P.J. Axelsson 19 seconds apart to take a 3-2 lead. When Zdeno Chara made it 4-2 with 3:05 left, Boston’s first home ice win over St. Louis since Jan. 30, 2001 seemed in the bag. But then that chicken bone got caught in the B’s throat.

David Perron made it 4-3 on a 6-on-4 power play and David Backes batted one out of mid-air with 0.8 seconds, a goal that was reviewed for five minutes before being allowed. Then the two team went scoreless for five minutes forcing a shootout. It was a tough day for Blake Wheeler. He missed an open net with 20 seconds to go in regulation that would have iced the game. Then he hit the right post when St. Louis goalie Chris Mason was caught out of position.

Brad Boyes scored the clinching goal as the Blues won the shootout, 2-0, and the game, 5-4.

Blake Wheeler said this one hurt.

Wheeler said he couldn’t believe he missed the open net in regulation.

Bruins head coach Claude Julien said don’t blame Wheeler.

Julien said that was a frustrating loss.

Shawn Thornton said the blame doesn’t lie on the stick of Wheeler.

B’s defenseman Mark Stuart said the Bruins got what they deserved.

Stuart hopes they learned their lesson.

Brad Boyes scored the winner in the shootout against former teammate Tim Thomas.

David Backes was nervous as his controversial game-tying goal was reviewed.

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Blues, Brad Boyes, Bruins

Injuries begin to take their toll in loss

01.19.09 at 5:29 pm ET
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Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien isn’t an excuse-maker and has never been much of one. The B’s bench boss calls it like it is, and has no problem saying so if energy, effort or enthusiasm are a problem for his hockey club – but there wasn’t any of that kind of tough talk following Monday afternoon’s 5-4 shootout loss at the TD Banknorth Garden.

The post-game chatter wasn’t about P.J. Axelsson and Blake Wheeler flip-flopping on the top two lines or any lingering issues that the Bruins may have in shoot-outs this season (Axelsson one of the top three shooters…really?), but Julien instead zeroed in on the injuries and the toll they’ve taken on the Black and Gold’s play.

Julien said that this Bruins team is missing at least “30 percent” of their regular lineup and evidence of that has begun to crop up in recent games. A one-goal stinker of a win over the Islanders, a hard-fought-but-no-cigar 2-1 loss to the Washington Capitals and the rollar coaster ride against the Blues are all unlike the dominant Bruins pattern that emerged throughout the first half of the season.

“The reality is right now we can’€™t be the same team that people have seen since the beginning of the year ‘€“ not with that many injuries.  We just have to look at our lineup, and I think it’€™s important that people know that we’€™ve got to grind it out a little more like we did last year…that’€™s just the reality,” said Julien. “You face those situations, and that’€™s called adversity.  You have to do that, and it’€™s frustrating for everybody; it’€™s frustrating for the players, frustrating for the fans and people that have seen our team in better situations before.”

The current team simply isn’t resembling the squad that the Bruins had through the first 40 games of the season, and after the game Julien actually sounded like a coach hoping for some level of reinforcements supplied by his general manager. Tampa Bay center Vinny Lecavalier is obviously the most prominent name mentioned in trade rumors with the Bruins, but other names like Toronto defenseman Tomas Kaberle, Atlanta defenseman Matthieu Schneider, Edmonton Oilers Erik Cole and Blues winger Keith Tkachuk have all been mentioned as potential healthy bodies that could help fill up the ranks.

With Phil Kessel and Milan Lucic both out of the lineup, Marc Savard hasn’t had enough willing and able offensive partners skating with him in recent weeks — a development that was allowing defenses to simply key on shutting down the David Krejci/Blake Wheeler/Michael Ryder B’s bonanza line.

So Julien put Wheeler up on the first line with Savard and Kobasew and inserted his favorite Swede into the electric second line with Krejci and Ryder. The move evened out the lines against a St. Louis team that’s been a Western Conference doormat all season long, but it didn’t exactly ignite the B’s offense either. The Bruins finally scored on a pair of power play strikes in the waning minutes of the third period to take the lead, and the B’s reasonably thought they had a nice, tight one-goal win wrapped up.

Unfortunately for the B’s, Blues forward David Backes scored a goal with .8 seconds left that pushed the game into overtime and ultimately led to the slipped-through-their-fingers shoot-out loss. The goal was briefly reviewed for being a high-sticking call, but the home offices in Toronto reviewed the goal and found insufficient evidence to overturn the call. The defeat pushed Julien to make a series of pointed comments about the current injured state of the B’s, and the difficulty in replacing players the caliber of Patrice Bergeron and Marco Sturm. Perhaps he’s looking for a little help, just as many trade-proposing members of Bruins Nation are as well.

“When you’€™re missing four of your top six players, in your top two lines, four of them [Kessel, Sturm, Bergeron, Lucic], right now, with the two D’€™s that are normally top four [Ference, Ward], we’€™ve got six players that are in the upper echelon of our lineup that aren’€™t there right now,” said Julien. “That’€™s one-third of your team missing.  It’€™s impossible to think you have the same team.

“You can’€™t turn around and replace a Patrice Bergeron or a Marco Sturm for his speed and his skill level.  He has it, and he’€™s playing on top lines because he has it, and you can’€™t just replace that,” added Julien. “Otherwise you’€™d have a heck of a team; we’€™d have four lines that could produce.  We’€™ve got guys moving up that are playing different roles, and we’€™ve guys that are from Providence that are helping us out the best that they can, and that’€™s what we have to deal with.”

Taking the loss hard

Blake Wheeler was still at his locker dressed in full uniform and looking distraught following the 5-4 shootout loss, and the young winger seemed to be replaying a series of unresolved moments from the second half of the game in his head. Wheeler didn’t get his stick on the rebound of a Marc Savard shot in the third period that could have pushed the Bruins out to a 4-2 lead, but that slight miss was soon forgotten when seconds later Zdeno Chara blasted home a booming slapper from the right point that supplied Boston with a thought-to-be insurance goal.

Things got worse for Wheeler when — with the Blues goalie pulled in the closing seconds of the third period — the rookie winger missed a bid at the wide open net from the neutral zone that would have iced the game for the Black and Gold. That slight miss seemed to be hurting the Big 18 Wheeler the most, but insult was added to injury when he clanged the post in his shootout attempt after completely faking out Chris Mason with a great deke.

“I lost the game for us,” said a despondent Wheeler following the loss.

Was it the unforgiving post or the missed emtpy net that would be keeping Wheeler up all night after the game?

“The open net because they came down and scored the goal that tied the game about ten seconds later,” admitted Wheeler. “It’€™s about a hockey player’€™s worst nightmare come true.”

While it was admirable for such a young guy to be taking sole responsibility after a game that was so close to victory, there were plenty of defensive breakdowns and missed opportunities that led up to the eventual loss at the hands of the Blues. Wheeler needn’t place all the blame on his 22-year-old shoulders in a game that had so many twists and turns, and ended with the B’s taking him another point prior to the All-Star break.

A goal put a smile on his face

It made Blues forward Brad Boyes laugh when he heard the chorus of boos coming down from the pro-Bruins crowd at the Garden before he lined up for his shootout attempt. The former Bruin, traded for Dennis Wideman and still one of Patrice Bergeron’s closest friends in the NHL, deftly beat Tim Thomas with a shot attempt that clinched the shootout victory for the Blues.

Game, set, and match for a classy kid from Ontario that was part of an incredibly effective Bergeron/Sturm/Boyes line when he was skating for Mike Sullivan’s Bruins in the post-Thornton Era. Things went bad for Boyes when Dave Lewis began his reign of ineptitude, and he was eventually shipped out for the puck-moving blueliner.

“It was good. We got a win, and we’€™re happy with that,” said Boyes. “We got a win last year [4-1 Blues win on 12/22/07], which was big.  Maybe we should come back here a little more often.  It’€™s always good.  It’€™s a hockey town, and it’€™s good to see they’€™re rallying around the team.”

Capitals taking liberties with Bruins?

01.18.09 at 1:04 am ET
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The Bruins have been saying for weeks that they’re expecting the best shot that other teams can give them as jostling for the playoffs continues, and that’s exactly what happened in an Eastern Conference statement game/2-1 loss to the Washington Capitals last night at Washington D.C.’s Verizon Center.

The defeat snapped a seven-game road winning streak that began in early December.

The site of the Black and Gold’s last road loss? The very same Verizon Center last month when the B’s dropped a 3-1 contest on Dec. 10 that saw Russian Rocket Alexander Ovechkin score a pair of goals. This time Alexander Semin took possession of a sloppy Martin St. Pierre pass and exhibited an exciting one-man rush up the ice in the waning moments of the third. The B’s now sit nine points ahead of Washington in the Eastern Conference standings, and the Capitals have been one of the few teams to show they can play toe-to-toe with the Big, Bad B’s.

The B’s played well enough and certainly hard enough in the loss, but of growing concern is the physical liberties that opposing teams are taking with the Bruins with both Milan Lucic and Aaron Ward out of the lineup. The Looch (fifth in the NHL with 154 thumping hits) and the veteran blueliner (third on the team with 82 hits) are the two heaviest and most frequent body-checkers in the B’s lineup — aside from the loathe-to-see-him-spend-5-or-10-minutes-in-the-penalty-box Zdeno Chara — and their ready-to-pound presence has been missed on the frozen sheet.

To wit: Ovechkin is one of the rare scorers not afraid to get into another player’s proverbial kitchen, and the Russian superstar put a very questionable knee/leg body check on Dennis Wideman in the second period. Wideman didn’t respond to Ovechkin’s tactic, but the refs did whistle him for the rare “Kneeing” penalty following the hit. With Ward or Lucic on the active roster there may have been some semblance of a response, but there wasn’t anything remotely approaching Ovechkin’s knee masquerading as a dangerous weapon.

Wideman needed treatment on the left knee following the game, but managed to gut through the rest of regulation while limping through long portions of the third period.

The Caps also targeted Marc Savard throughout the game with Nicklas Backstrom throwing a clear elbow at the playmaking center’s face, and several other Washington skaters making life difficult — and painful — for the biggest threat on Boston’s injury-ravaged first line. Without some of their premier skaters ready and available, the B’s seemed a little resistant to respond to these physical call to arms and couldn’t match Washington’s star power.

This isn’t even mentioning Brett Erskine taking big swipes at the head of Savard and Chuck Kobasew in the third period — another head-hunting move that might have been tempered if there was a bit more fear in the corners of the Capitals’ skaters eyes.

Semin and prolific blueliner Mike Green potted goals for the Caps in the win, and Savard managed the only goal for the Bruins. It was a simple and effective philosophy: let your playmakers account for a few scores and dazzle with your high-wattage power play, hold down the B’s acting No. 1 line of David Krejci/Blake Wheeler/Michael Ryder and get very physical with Savard each time he was out on the ice. It was something that wasn’t happening as much when Lucic was riding shotgun with Savard, and chances are it won’t happen if he’s again skating with Savard when he returns from his shoulder injury.

It wasn’t difficult to envision these two teams tangling in a seven-game war this spring once the Stanley Cup playoffs become a reality, and the Capitals have been successful in the last two minor skirmishes leading up to that big puck conflict. There should be plenty on the line when the Capitals arrive at the Garden for the rematch on Jan. 27.

Bergeron getting close to a return?

A great piece of news from Washington as both Patrice Bergeron and Andrew Ference were removed from the injured reserve list, and may begin slowly working their way back into game action. Ference will be a welcomed blueline cavalry for a group that has been depleted by injuries, and Bergeron is a huge second-half key to Boston’s strength-up-the-middle attack. That being said, don’t expect the 23-year-old center to return prior to the NHL All-Star break at the very earliest.

No matter when Bergeron returns, that has to be considered a huge lift for a hockey club that’s been much more MASH unit lately. Despite the bumps, bruises and scrapes, the Black and Gold continue to amaze with their uncanny ability to keep winning and maintaining their edge in the Eastern Conference.

NHL conference call with Bruins coach Claude Julien

01.17.09 at 12:11 pm ET
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Here’s the transcript from an NHL-sponsored conference call with Bruins coach Claude Julien, who — as all of Bruins Nation knows — will be behind the bench for the Eastern Conference All-Star team at the Bell Centre in Montreal next weekend. It’s a homecoming for the B’s bench boss, who was the head coach for the Habs five years ago when the bottom-seeded Canadiens shocked the top-seeded Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Q. Coach Julien, I wonder what the emotion will be for you to not only coach in an All-Star Game but to do it in Montreal where you coached a few years and where you left abruptly? And what would it be like to have some guys that you you coached in your starting lineup who played for Montreal, still?

CLAUDE JULIEN: I think everything will be great. This is a city where I really enjoyed coaching. Again, with the coaching carousels, every once in a while you’ve got to move around. But it’s been great. There’s no animosity there at all. For me, it’s a pleasure to go back. Not just to Montreal, but also to represent the Bruins and the fact that I’m probably going to be hooking up there with some of the players that I’ve coached. It’s great. It’s great to see those guys again.

There’s always good relationships that get built between players and coaches over the course of the years. I think just having an opportunity to put everything aside for a couple of days and taking time to enjoy it is going to be great for me.

Q. What do you rate this in terms of achievements in your career? Going from where you started in junior and now you’re coaching an All?Star Game in the NHL? CLAUDE JULIEN:  I think the thing that you have to keep in mind here is that you’re there because of the people around you. As I’ve mentioned often, if it’s not for the players, your coaching staff doing such a great job.

You don’t get that honor just because of your individual work. You get that honor because of the work that people around you have done and helped you along the way. The way I look at it is I’m representing the Boston Bruins, and not necessarily representing myself. 

Q. I just want to talk about your Windsor days. It was obviously a long time ago, but I understand you still have quite a few friends in town, and I just wondered how you think your time in Windsor impacted you as a player and a coach? CLAUDE JULIEN: Oh, there’s no doubt. Everything in your life when you’re involved in hockey whether it’s a player or coaching, there’s always something that impacts you. I was there in the days when Wayne Cashman was a coach. And definitely a coach that got the most out of his players. 

We were a character team. And I think I grew as a player there. And everywhere you stop, you take a little bit from everybody. There’s a lot of things I liked from different coaches, and a lot of things I’ve seen from different players. You take a little bit from everything. At the same time, you try to build your own identity. But Windsor was definitely a place I enjoyed. But I still come back every once in a while to visit friends. 

Q. Why is San Jose playing better than Detroit this season? TODD MCLELLAN:  I don’t know if San Jose is. We’re competing right there with them. I still believe Detroit is the team to beat in the National Hockey League, with all due respect to Claude’s team and to our team here in San Jose. Obviously, the Calgary Flames are playing well. But Detroit has an aura about them.

They believe in themselves. They believe they can repeat as champions. It will be a tough task for anybody to knock them off. But at this moment as far as our hockey club goes, we’ve had a really good start. We’ve harnessed some of the early season energy, and we’re able to get out of the gate quickly. Our confidence grew, and now it’s about maintaining our game.

And tomorrow night we’ve got the Red Wings here. It will be a big task for us. But right now I still believe Detroit is the team to beat. Are the Sharks playing better than them? I don’t necessarily agree with that.

Q. Douglas Murray has a lot of fans here in Sweden. What can you say about him and his season so far?TODD MCLELLAN: Douglas is a huge part of our success and our future moving forward. He’s a big, physical defenseman. He provides that element of abrasiveness around our net. He’s certainly not the smoothest with the puck, but we don’t ask him to do that. We want him to play within his own means. He provides us that physical element and a real important part of our hockey club. 

Q. Julien, what lies behind Boston’s success this season compared to last season? CLAUDE JULIEN: Obviously, it’s a little bit more experience. I guess for the first part until lately it was obviously the health issue with our team. We remain pretty healthy for the most of the year so far until, as I mentioned, the last few weeks we’ve had guys go down.

But we’ve had a lot of guys grow through adversity last year. We’ve had some young players put into situations that they normally wouldn’t have been going through had there not been injuries last year. And I think with the acceleration and their progress has certainly shown this year and taken advantage of it.

But we’ve added a few players as well that’s kind of stabilized our team even more, and given us a little bit more scoring. Right now we’ve had most of our players playing pretty good hockey. You know, as Todd mentioned also, this is a situation where it’s just half the season. And most people don’t remember how you start, they remember how you finish. We’ve got another task ahead of us, and probably a tougher one, and we look forward to the challenge.

Q. P.J. Axelsson been with the Bruins for a few years now. What’s he contribute to the team? CLAUDE JULIEN: With the amount of time he’s been with the Bruins, and the respect he’s gained from his teammates he’s been a great leader for us on and off the ice. I think his anticipation of plays and he reads the play well.

He’s a smart player. We use him a lot in penalty killing situations. We’ve been using him a lot on the power play as well because of injuries. He’s a smart player that can make plays. So he brings a little of everything to our team. But most of all, I think we’ve appreciated his leadership qualities especially this year. 

Q. Sorry to go so local, but if you look back at the 2002?03 season, you guys coached respectively the best two teams in the NHL, and Claude, you got your job in Montreal. And I wondered if you could comment on that year, and what you remember of the Calder Cup? And did that season seem to impact your careers as much as it looks like from the outside? TODD MCLELLAN: I know from my perspective in Houston, it was a tremendous year. I really believed the two top teams ended up playing in that Calder Cup final, and it was a heck of a series. Claude did a tremendous job in growing that team, and he had the opportunity to leave. And Jeff Ward who is with him now took that Hamilton team right to the finals. So their coaching staff did a tremendous job in Hamilton, and a number of those players have gone on to play in the National League.

When you revert back to the Houston team again, it was a young team with veteran leadership. A number of those players have made impact in the Minnesota Wild organization. The series itself was incredible. It was extremely fast, skilled hockey. I remember the sellout in Hamilton in the final game. It was the last game played that year. I think the Stanley Cup had been awarded the night before. Just a real thriller. 

Did it impact my career? I believe it did. It was the first opportunity to win a championship as a head coach. Certainly it’s something that I revert back to on a daily basis here in San Jose about some of those experiences and how we handled ourselves. 

CLAUDE JULIEN: There’s no doubt it was an incredible year. As you mentioned, I ended up leaving halfway through. And I guess as great as it was to go to Montreal, you always have a little bit of regret not having the opportunity to finish your job.

So I really felt confident that our team was capable of challenging for that cup, and, you know, I actually attended Game 7, which Todd alluded to earlier, it was a sellout crowd. Something we hadn’t seen in Hamilton for years, and I don’t think it ever happened in the American Hockey League and in Hamilton itself. 

But it was a great game. I think Todd’s team was just on top of their game. It was really the better team that night. Certainly was a fun year for me. Obviously a great year as far as my personal career was concerned. I got the opportunity to move up to the NHL.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, P.J. Axelsson,

Fresh Thomas locks Islanders down

01.15.09 at 11:24 pm ET
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Tim Thomas didn’t earn the shutout last night when he coughed up a goal off David Krejci’s skate late in the third period, but he looked as fresh as he has all season in the 2-1 win over the Islanders.

There’s a good reason for that.

B’s coach Claude Julien has done a masterful job of sharing the workload between his two thirtysomething goalies, and it’s allowed them to become the best goaltending tandem in the NHL this season. In season’s past, the energetic and athletic style employed by Thomas would cause him to wear down over the grind of a long season — a situation worsened without a ton notch partner between the pipes.

The 34-year-old appeared in 66 games during the 06-07 season when injuries and the stunning collapse of the SS Raycroft pushed him into an extreme workload, and it was something that even Thomas himself acknowledges might have been a few too many games jammed into one regular season. Last year’s brief Manny Fernandez appearance along with some great support work done by Alex Auld allowed Thomas to scale back nine games and — coupled with an excellent defensive system installed by Claude Julien and his coaching staff — resulted in career-highs in save percentage and GAA.

At this point last season Thomas had appeared in 29 games and the B’s have slackened that pace even more this season with Man-Fern in the wings — as last night was his 25th appearance of the season. The fresh-as-a-daisy tender turned away 40 shots on a night when the Black and Gold clearly weren’t at their best against the mucking, scrapping Isles, and is on pace to appear in 47 games this season — the lowest games played total for him since surfacing from the Providence Baby B’s to play in 36 games way back in 2005-05.

“I’ve been fortunate enough over the years to have had good relationships with lots of goaltenders that I played with. I’ve actually played kind of in tandem like this with Raycroft in Providence, where we both pretty much played half and half,” said Thomas during a recent NHL conference call. “I did get used to it then. For a few years I haven’t played in a goaltending tandem like that.

“Last year we had Alex Auld. He was great, took a lot of the pressure off of me. But I still played more games percentage-wise than I’m playing this year,” added Thomas. “The good thing about playing with Manny this year is we’re pretty much the same age with pretty much the same experience level. We’ve been able to help each other out. Through a season, players don’t always have their A games. When that happens, I think as goaltenders we can see it in each other. We either settle each other down if that needs to be or kind of try to fire each other up if that’s what needs to happen. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that this year.”

Read More: Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Manny Fernandez, New York Islanders

Lawton: Lecavalier is not being traded

01.15.09 at 5:42 pm ET
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Tampa Bay Lightning GM Brian Lawton met with the assembled hockey media in Florida today to debunk the Vinny Lecavalier trade rumors, including pie-in-the-sky speculation that he might be sent to Boston for a bevy of young players.

“There’s been a lot of speculation floating around and it has all been completely unfounded,” said Lawton, who added that he received a grand total of zero phone calls from the Montreal media to confirm or deny potential trade talks with the Canadiens. “Vinny Lecavalier is not being shopped by the Tampa Bay Lightning…(We told him) he wasn’t being traded. He wasn’t being shopped around. He’s not being traded today, he’s not being traded tomorrow and he’s not going to be traded anytime soon.”

Read More: Boston Bruins, Brian Lawton, Tampa Bay Lightning, Vinny Lecavalier

No need to mortgage puck futures for Lecavalier

01.15.09 at 1:08 pm ET
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I’ll admit that it’s tempting on some level of pure hockey fantasy.

The pipe dream of plucking center Vinny Lecavalier from the hockey war zone in Tampa Bay and immediately dressing him up in one of those bad-ass “Back in Black” Bruins third jerseys could be tantalizing for those needing/wanting/craving a franchise player on Causeway Street. The kind of hockey rink solar source that would serve as the center for a bunch of lesser hockey playing constellations deigned to orbit around Vinny as the points pile up on the scoreboard. A player like the 28-year-old LeCavalier that has averaged 100 points over the last two seasons and indeed does have a Stanley Cup championship on his puck resume is something with some cachet.

These hockey facts are all true and indisputable, but lets also take a peek at a few other fun factoids: Lecavalier has a career +/- of -75 and has always battled through serious issues while trying to play the responsible two-way hockey that’s become a B’s staple during coach Claude Julien’s tenure. LeCavalier has also only cracked 80 points twice in his nine-year NHL career, which doesn’t exactly scream out “must have”.

 That’s right…you heard that correctly. Vastly underrated B’s center Marc Savard has as many 80 plus point seasons in his NHL career as the highly-touted Lecavalier in his deservedly lauded NHL body of work – the underrated B’s center just doesn’t have the scout’s dream size (6-foot-4, 220-pounds) or the cachet of being a first overall pick in the NHL draft as Lecavalier does.

Big Vinny from the North End of Montreal (not really, but that sounded so natural…didn’t it?) is a left-handed shot and a bona fide, ‘Grade A’ NHL center — a pair of attributes that the B’s front office rightfully covets — but he’s also about to become a non-trade-able commodity on July 1 when he begins making a $10 million annual salary along with a roster-clogging cap hit of $7.72 million. The 11-year, $85 million deal will take Lecavalier through the 2019-2020 NHL season when the big center is 40 years-old, and a final judgement will finally be made about the fiscal prudence of the jumbo contracts handed out to hockey’s superstars once the new CBA was adopted.

If the salary cap plateaus or recedes as many suspect it will in the coming years, Lecavalier’s contract might as well arrive on Causeway Street complete with a pair of stainless steel handcuffs and a “How to win with a roster full of AHL players” handbook.

This is the reason why a Tampa Bay ownership group — one that hasn’t exactly draped themselves in glory during their first half-season in power – is looking to deal the lamp-lighting lug. This is why the Lightning are looking to fleece the Bruins of a group of young assets that have set the NHL on their collective ear during the first half of the hockey season.

If Lecavalier  is as good as advertised, it begs the question why the Lightning weren’t any better last year when they had a host of talented players including Martin St. Louis and Dan Boyle. It’s a pretty simple answer, actually.

So much cap space was locked into the skill players that Tampa Bay was cap-strapped and couldn’t afford to fashion themselves a deep, gritty, hockey team properly outfited for a run at the Stanley Cup. This is a virtual crystal ball for what the hockey Hub could become if any combination of Phil Kessel/David Krejci and Milan Lucic/Blake Wheeler along with draft picks were shipped to the Sunshine State for Lecavalier.

Word out of Montreal is that the Canadiens are hell-bent on acquiring Lecavalier, the native son of Quebec, and they want to do it before the NHL All-Star Game next weekend. Hopefully GM Peter Chiarelli and the B’s front office are stoking the rumors of interest in Lecavalier to raise the price tag for the hated Habs while privately informing his players — guys like Krejci, Wheeler and Lucic that aren’t going anywhere, anytime soon — that their futures are in Black and Gold. It’s a page right out of the Red Sox/Yankees struggle for supremacy, and it’s the only way the Bruins should be involved in any talks for Vinny L.

The future is blindingly bright and the Bruins are battling through injuries that will likely bring about hockey trades to fill needs along the power play and blueline, but there’s no need to blow it up and bring in another Joe Thornton-type to Boston. The current team of skaters have captured the fan’s imaginations with their sheer youthful talent and their Old Time Hockey watch-each-other’s-back tightness.

Now isn’t the time to go back to the Old Way of doing things at the Garden, and a deal for Lecavalier would be a hugely misbegotten move in that wrong-headed direction. The reason the B’s are having success is because they’ve bathed themselves in depth and flexibility, and one big trade for My Center Vinny would wipe all that out in one fell swoop.

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