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Hockey Notes: Good things from Kessel

10.18.08 at 9:38 am ET
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I score...therefore I am

I score...therefore I am

It might be time to stop haphazardly tossing Phil Kessel’s name aroun whenever the NHL trade winds start blowing in Boston this winter.

The 21-year-old puck prodigy has a pair of goals in the first three games this season and has clearly shown a willingness to start paying a higher price to score points and make things happen for the team. The 6-foot, 192-pound Kessel has always been blessed with a ridiculously fast release and it still looks somebody hit the turbo button on a Nintendo controller whenever the winger gets his legs churning and gains some speed. The difference this season is that he’s also starting to flash a little grit and tenacity in his hockey tool box.

Kessel’s #1 responsibility should be putting points on the table and lighting up the red lamp like it’s Main Street in Amsterdam, but the willingness to “take a hit and make a play” is something that the Bruins organization has been waiting to see. Bruins coach Claude Julien sees a player that’s simply growing up before his eyes and mixing the strength, speed and skill package necessary to be an effective, responsible player in his system — a maturation that some unfairly expected to see when he was still a teen-ager but is happening on its own schedule. Something that is just fine with the B’s.

“With time and experience, he just keeps getting better,” said Juien, who really seems to be the perfect coach for a young hockey club that’s both reaping explosive bursts of hockey skill and enduring necessary growing pains during an 82-game hockey schedule. “That’s why you have to be patient sometimes with young athletes. You don’t want to turn the page or overreact. I think that’s paying dividends right now in Phil’s case.”

Kessel is certainly someone that holds a lot of value around the NHL world given his “can’t be taught” physical skills and precocious age, but the gist of Julien’s words isn’t lost. The Bruins had ample chances to deal Kessel last season if they deemed that the youngster wasn’t a good fit with their team philosophies, but it’s always a risky roll of the dice with somebody young enough to change their habits and raise their potential ceiling as a player.

Was the benching last season in Boston’s first round battle against the Canadiens something that finally got Kessel’s attention and brought about the change? Was it simply the maturation of a young guy that started playing men’s pro hockey as 19-year-old and faced off cancer in his rookie season along with everything else?

Kessel’s not telling, but it’s clear that he’s beginning to “get it”, as Bill Parcells is wont to say: “I worked hard this summer and I want to do well this year. It’s all about helping this team win games and get better. I don’t think I learned anything from sitting down in the playoffs. It was a decision that the coach made. Playing in the playoffs just makes you want to get back there again.”

Kessel went from 11 goals and 29 points in his rookie season — along with a tough -12 to set the numbers to sobering reality — but improved to 19 goals, 37 points and a -6 last season in Julien’s defensive-minded system. With time and confidence on his side, is a 30 goal, 50 points season a possibility after watching Kessel weave through defenses in the early going and mystify goalies with his snapping wrist shot? It would be a big step forward, but it’s a step that the Bruins are hoping to see become reality as Kessel keeps learning to harness his considerable talents.

“When Boston was here [in Minnesota] I was talking to [Peter] Chiarelli in the stands because they practice [at the University of Minnesota] before they play the Wild,” said Golden Gophers head coach Don Lucia, who coached both Blake Wheeler and Kessel during their collegiate hockey careers. “We were talking about how [Phil] has matured and gotten better. People forget that he just turned 21 years old, that Phil is really just still a pup. He’s going to keep getting better. He’s an outstanding player now, and he’s going to be even better three or four years from now.”

Scouting report on Lukacevic

I’ve heard a lot of questions over the last week about the minor league player involved in the Andrew Alberts trade with the Philadelphia Flyers: Ned Lukacevic. The 22-year-old winger was packaged with a conditional draft pick to the Bruins for the brawny Bruins blueliner to clear off some room under the salary cap, and Lukacevic promptly reported to the Providence Bruins.

Lukacevic has bounced between the ECHL and AHL levels over the last two seasons and potted 36 points for the ECHL’s Reading Royals last season before getting dealt to the Flyers in the Dennis Gauthier trade over the summer. Here’s a scouting report on Lukacevic from an NHL talent evaluator that’s watched the 6-foot, 200-pound winger several times over the last few years: “His best asset is his skating. He’s a great skater with a lot of speed. He really needs to work on his grit and paying the price going to the net. Sometimes he would do it and other times he wouldn’t. He needs more consistency in that area.”

Tough Break to Break Out

Who's better than me with the Cup, Maria?

Who's better than me with the Cup, Maria?

Prior to the start of the season, veteran Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward credited Rod Brind’Amour with really helping light his competitive fire while sharing a rigorous off-season workout schedule with Rod the Bod. So it must have been truly disappointing for Ward to hear that Brind’Amour needed arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in September after reconstruction surgery for a torn ACL wiped out the final six weeks of the season for the Carolina sparkplug.

The Heart and Soul is back with the ‘Canes following the second surgery that wiped out much of his training camp, however, and has a pair of goals and an assist in four games with Carolina after playing only one preseason game. The 38-year-old is obviously back in a big way with Carolina, but he also deserves an assist for providing a little spark and inspiration to help get Ward’s 35-year-old skating legs churning again this summer.

“I started skating in June with Rod Brind’Amour and he’s the kind of guy that’s just piss and vinegar. That’s just the type of guy that he is and he just lives for hockey. So he got out there in April and I got out there in June and started skating with him. It’s weird,” said Ward, who played in his 700th NHL game against the Canadienslast Wednesday. “I never had a mental need to play hockey, but Game 6 of last season also really helped propel me back out there [to skate with Rod.]

“I don’t know if it was anxiety or just excitement that got me out there skating again [so early.] But as an older guy that’s a good sign. Because when you start feeling like it’s tough to get the pads on, and I’ve gone through that before, that’s not good. It was rough when I was in New York and I came here in the second half. It was tough to get that mental switch going where you wanted to be out on the ice, but last year I wasn’t ready for [the season] to be done. That’s a good sign.”

 

Read More: Aaron Ward, Blake Wheeler, Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes

Krejci on the rise

10.15.08 at 11:40 pm ET
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David Krejci expects to raise his hands in lamp-lighting celebration many times this season...Glen Murray, not so much

David Krejci expects to raise his hands in lamp-lighting celebration many times this season...Glen Murray, not so much

David Krejci had never scored less than 20 goals in any season during his hockey career — whether it was developing his puck magician skills in the minors, maturing in the Quebec Major Junior League as a Czech Republic native slowly growing comfortable with the English language, or dominating amateur leagues in ice rinks all across his native land.

That is until last season.

The craftier than crafty 22-year-old has obviously honed a puck identity as an assist machine during each level of his hockey development — a byproduct of his wise-beyond-his-years ability to think the game through. And a gifted set of fast-twitch hands that easily make split-second transitions between puck possession and a perfect dish to the high-scoring areas on the ice. It’s a gift that the skilled elite in the National Hockey League all possess, and Krejci has it in glorious abundance.

But the 6-foot, 178-pounderalso takes pride in being able to make opposing teams pay when they expect him to pass, and he’s always been something of a goal-scoring throat along the way. So when Krejci looked back on last season’s encouraging second half performance with the Bruins, he clearly saw one area that needed some improvement: 13 goals scored in 81 games split between the Providence B’s (7 goals, 21 assists in 25 games) and the Hockey Hub (6 goals, 21 assists in 56 games).

“One of the top [improvements for me] is shooting for sure. Three years ago before I got to Providence, I just brought a net out to my garden and just shot every day for three months straight,” said Krejci. “That year I got 30 goals. Then i got a taste of the NHL and I thought I had to be stronger and I did [get stronger]. But I didn’t improve at other stuff that I needed to be good at like shooting. I hadn’t been shooting at all the summer before last season, and I could see that I was really getting weaker with my shot.”

With that in mind, Krejci spent a lot of time this summer shooting anywhere he could. There was no confirmation that a young professional hockey player named Krejci was spotted on the beaches of Krk Island in Croatia armed with a stick and rocketing stones into the ocean during his summer vacation, but the center did admit to long hours firing away at pucks in the garden outside his Czech Republic home this summer. It’s something that Krejci had always done each and every summer to strengthen his wrists and add snap to the his wrist shot and slapper attempts, and his strength and feel for his shot went missing last season.

He felt as if shying away from the hundreds of shots each week is why he wound up with 13 goals for the

I shoot therefore I am...

I shoot therefore I am...

season, and it’s a big reason why the budding B’s prospect thinks he’s going to be back up over that comfortable 20 goal level this season.  Krejci has already potted the game-winner in Colorado on opening night, and his goal-scoring touch was again key in last night’s point-winning 4-3 shootout loss to the hated Habs on Wednesday night. Krejci scored Boston’s first goal of the second period, a rocket of a one-time slap shot after a rebounded puck floated right to him in the high slot.

Did Krejci’s extra shooting work supply a little more sizzle to a shot that rattled the cross-bar before eventually dropping into the net? That just may be, but you be the judge after checking out a Q&A I had with Krejci recently. His skills are truly of the eye-popping variety and he seems poised to make a huge step forward in his second NHL season this winter.

How big was getting up to the NHL toward the end of the season and feeling comfortable last season? DK: Last year I went to training camp to make the team and i did it. But I had some up and downs, you know. I need to be more consistent. I know I had a good year and so many people told me that, but it’s time to to put last year behind me and do whatever I can do this year to be even better. I just need to focus forward rather than the past.

So you had people congratulating you on having a good year, and you’re thinking in your head that the best things are yet to come? DK: Yeah, exactly. I know I had some good games last year. Those games I would love to play every single night this year. No up and downs like I said before. Just consistent. I was happy with the season, but I wasn’t happy as the season went along because I need to be at the same level.

How much of last season was getting comfortable? What was the key for you? DK: A little bit of everything. You need a little luck. I got lucky by getting an opportunity. Savvy got hurt and I was able to play his position. Sometimes I didn’t play good, so I just need to work harder. I don’t want to go back to Providence. I liked everyone there and had a good time, but this is what I dream of. The games I didn’t play good, I just tried to work the hardest so they wouldn’t send me down.

What kind of players bring the best out of you at center? DK: I take everything from everyone. I played a lot

Would the world end if P.J. googled Zoolander?

Would the world end if P.J. googled Zoolander?

last year with Marco Sturm and Kess, and they both have a lot of speed. So you give them the puck and everything is fine. When I played a long time with Axxy, I think he is one of the best two-way players in the league. So many people think he’s only a defensive player but he’s got great skills to make all the plays. So I like playing with anybody. I can just pick two guy and then play with them all year. You never know there’s going to be injuries or something…or there’s five minutes left and you’re going out there with guys that you have played with and they know what to expect from you. And I know what to expect from them. It makes it a little easier.

When you’re in the offensive zone are you thinking in your head to pass first? Is that how your hockey mind works? DK:I know I don’t have the greatest shot in the league, so I’m trying to work on it. I’m trying to get better sticks [Krejci said this with a laugh]. 2-on-1 or whatever I don’t care whether it’s me or Axxy or whoever scoring the goal. Whether I make the pass or I shoot it, I just like when we score a goal. I don’t want to go back to the bench [without scoring] and have somebody says ‘nice play’ or whatever. If I make a nice play and we don’t score a goal, then it’s just like putting the puck in the corner, you know. I just want the team to score goals.

If you’ve got an opening to shoot then I’ll shoot it and if I have an opening to shoot or pass it I might try to look off the goalie and make a nice play. Sometimes it doesn’t work.

Do you get more of a thrill out of setting up a nice pass or scoring a goal? DK:I was always more of the passer guy all my life, but I’ll tell you one thing…I was pretty happy when I finally scored a goal last year. I like to be the playmaker and play with the puck. It’s hard to say.

Guys must like playing with you if you like passing the puck? DK: You’ve got to ask them, you know. Scoring or passing, I’ll just take whatever comes. I just think I’m more of a guy who can handle the puck better than shoot the puck from the top of the circle.

You talked about the shooting a little bit…were there one or two areas like that you pinpointed in the summer and you wanted to get better at? DK: There’s more stuff I wanted to get better at in the offseason. One of the top ones is shooting for sure. Three years ago before I got to Providence, I just brought a net out to my garden and just shot every day for three months straight. That year I got 30 goals. Then i got a taste of the NHL and I thought I had to be stronger and I did [get stronger]. But I didn’t improve at other stuff that I needed to be good at like shooting. I haven’t been shooting at all the summer before last season, and I could see that I was really getting weaker with my shot.

Puck in the garden

Puck in the garden

So this year I brought the net back and tried to shoot as many pucks as I could.  This is back in the Czech, and I have a house on the hill that has a driveway that goes down below into a garden. I set the net up there and started shooting again. I didn’t it three years ago felt great and scored 30 goals. Didn’t do it last year and scored…what…six goals in the NHL.

So are you going to score 30 goals this season? DK: I’m not saying I’m going to score 30 goals, but I will say that my shot is going to be harder this year. Training camp was tough so you didn’t have a lot of time to shoot before and after practice, but we’ll see.

Was there a moment last year where something happened and you said ‘you know what, I belong in the NHL?’ DK: When I made the team from training camp, our first road trip was in California. I thought I played good and coaches told they wanted me to play here. Then when they told me I was unsuccessful. I didn’t want to be, but I just didn’t play as good as I did before. That’s why I was talking about being consistent. I knew I could play when we were on that California trip. I knew I could play at this level. So I went to work again in Providence and got called back up and really believed I could stay all year. And that’s what I did.

That must have been important to have that idea in your head that you could play here. DK: It was a good feeling. When they brought me back I was playing 10 minutes a night and playing on the power play. So that got my confidence up. I love it on the power play. I feel like it’s one of my strongest game. I love to feel like I’m an important guy on the team and other guys will be counting on me.

Is there kind of a good feeling that there’s a bunch of young players like yourself that are all growing up on the team together? DK: It’s nice. The older guys have been nice to us. Sometimes they make a joke at us, but you’ve got to take it as a team thing. It’s nice that we’ve got some more younger guys, so you kind of turn it on them and make jokes about them.

Who’s the biggest veteran to make jokes at you guys? DK:Axxey maybe. Just fun stuff. There are more guys. It’s hard to say just one.

What’s your favorite moment from last year? DK:It was all of the momens from the first playoff series for sure. It was something I won’t ever forget. Even if I play 10 more times in the league and 10 more times in the playoff, it was my first time there and we went to seven games in Montreal. it was something special, you know. That Game 6 was the biggest thing. They scored three goals, we scored three goals. It was just crazy. Like I said, I would love to do it again.

What was your summer like? DK:Yeah, my offseason I don’t skate at all. I usually start skating three or sometimes four weeks before the camp so I can get strong and get a feel for the ice before camp.

Did you do any traveling? DK: Travel. After the season I went to World Championships in Quebec City and then I spent maybe a week in Ottawa. I played Junior hockey there and I still have a girlfriend from there so I spent a week there. Then i went back home and went on a 10 day vacation with family, my good friends and my girlfriend to Croatia. It was nice just relaxing on the beaches.

People tell me that the beaches in parts of Croatia are pretty nice. DK:Yeah. It’s not a sand beach, it’s big rocks. So it makes the water so clear and it’s pretty nice. Sometimes when you have a sandy bottom to the beach you can’t see anything below the water, but you can see all the rocks in the water. It’s pretty nice. I go there the last 10 years in a row for a week or two. I always used to go to a place called Krk Island for five years in a row, but the last couple of years I’ve just picked places out of city with my friends.

Croatia is so beautiful, you know, they have all kinds of little villages that basically come alive at night. So you got to the beaches all day and then you have stuff to do like going to shops, or street dancers or street magicians. There’s always things to do there. it’s very nice.

Is that rest good for you when you had such a long season between Providence, Boston and the World Championships? DK: Oh yeah. There was a excitement inside of me, but I was so exhausted that I couldn’t wait to rest. I was watching the Stanley Cup playoffs you know, and it was so hard to watch them last season when you knew you could have been there. It’s so nice when I go to Croatia I just totally take everything off and I eat like an animal, you know, and do whatever. Just relaxing and doing whatever I want. After that [hockey] starts over again, you know.

Read More: Boston Bruins, David Krejci, P.J. Axelsson, Providence Bruins

Sobotka, Hunwick pumped to be back

10.14.08 at 11:24 am ET
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As expected, Matt Hunwick and Vladimir Sobotka were both appropriately happy to be called back up to the
Sobotka ready to follow Shawn Thornton and "run over some French guys."

Sobotka ready to follow Shawn Thornton and "run over some French guys."

Bruins Tuesday afternoon after a trade (Andrew Alberts) and an injury (Chuck Kobasew) cleared up a pair of spots on the active roster.

Sobotka was a monster down in Providence in his two games for the P-Bruins (four points and his first professional dropping of the gloves) and Hunwick said somebody told him it was like “watching a man among boys” while Sobotka was tearing up the ice at the AHL level. Hunwick is the potential quick-skating, puck-moving defenseman that is vital in this day and age of the NHL, and should be competing with veteran Shane Hnidy for minutes. Sobotka is a “gritty, in-your-face player” who “plays like he’s six foot plus” no matter size he really is according to head coach Claude Julien. The coach said that both players can expect to see ice time in the near future, if not immediately. The long on-ice practice seemed to indicated that at least one (Sobotka) — if not both — will be active Wednesday night against the first grudge match of the season at the Bell Centre in Montreal.

Solid hockey hair for Hunwick

Solid hockey hair for Hunwick

“When you look at Matt Hunwick everybody notices that he’s got good mobility and he’s a great skater. He’s gotten stronger over the year since the beginning of last year and his decisions on the ice have to be a little quicker — let’s put it way – in order for him to improve the way that we want him to,” said Julien after Tuesday’s practice. “He’s still doing a good job at it, and when you look at players improving, it’s something that if he can get better at it he’s going to be a really good defenseman in the this league.

“With Vlad we talked about the numbers game and he had to go down there for a while when we had to cut our roster down, but he’s a gritty player,” added Julien. “He’s in your face. No matter what size he is, he plays six-foot plus every single night. He works hard, plays gritty and that’s part of our team identity. I haven’t made my final decision for tomorrow [night's line-up], but we didn’t bring them up here to put them on the shelf. If it’s not tomorrow then it’s some point [soon].”

Also for all those wondering, Sobotka did drive his nice, new BMW 3 Series up to Boston after learning of his call-up. The 21-year-old Czech was summarily excited to be back up with the B’s big club, and he would have likely never left the club if not for the numbers/salary cap tightness that was a part of the equation.

“They send me down and they told me I’d be back after a short period. I’m going to play NHL and try to stay here for whole season. I had maybe more ice time in Providence,” said Sobotka, who scored a goal and six assists in 48 games last year. “I play PP, PK and it’s good for now that it’s changed and I’ll be on fourth line and maybe have less ice time. I’ll just play one game at a time up here.”

Hunwick had just finished eating lunch with his parents at the Cheesecake Factory and was book-shopping at a bookstore on Newbury Street when he heard the good news about getting called back up to Boston on Monday. The 23-year-old blueliner has 12 career NHL games under his belt — and one lonely assist – so he bolted quickly from the bookstore without buying the latest John Grisham novel  and didn’t waste any time getting his gear ready to bring back to Boston.

“It’s an opportunity to prove I can play at this level and also help the team win,” said Hunwick. “I was playing 20 minutes a night in Providence and killing penalties and getting power play team. I got some key minutes in those areas in case I’m ever needed on those units up here. I had my phone off and it was kind of a day off so I could get away from things. But then I turned it on and had a few text messages from friends that gave me a clue this was happening, so here I am today.”

Read More: Add new tag, Andrew Alberts, Boston Bruins, Chuck Kobasew

Haggs’ NHL 2008-09 Preview

10.09.08 at 5:37 pm ET
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This is what I did to the last guy that mocked the Bruins

This is what I did to the last guy that mocked the Bruins

“The feeling [the team] got after Game 6 I want them to remember, and the feeling they had after Game 7 they should remember too. They should have gained some experience from that playoff series, and hopefully we can take it to the next level this year. We want to continue to improve. We have some good young talent this year.”

These are the encouraging words of a highly competitive man with a vested interest in the return of the Big Bad Bruins: Bruins Vice President and link to Boston’s Black and Golden past, Cam Neely. Neely was talking about this year’s edition of the Boston Skating Club with Glen Ordway, Brian Daubach and Lou Merloni on the Big Show Thursday afternoon.

Neely certainly sounded optimistic about the team’s chances of building on a first round playoff loss that included the best hockey game ever played (Game 6) at the TD Banknorth Garden since its inception.

Neely’s words couldn’t be more cogent or prophetic when it comes to this year’s team. The Bruins showed last season that they could scrape, claw, bleed and punch their way to the playoffs with defensive intensity, opportunistic scoring when an opponent made a mistake, athletic goaltending and the physical intimidation that once seemed a birthright along with a Bruins jersey. The B’s weren’t as talented or explosive as teams like the Sabres, Hurricanes or Lightning, yet they were still standing on their skates after those other teams had been eliminated from consideration for Lord Stanley’s Annual Cup tournament. 

The team must embrace and repeat the work ethic and snarl that made them playoff quality last season, but also need to raise their scoring output and skill level. Both objectives should be helped immensely by the return of Patrice Bergeron to the lineup. Bergie is easily the best two-way hockey player on the Bruins and was ascending into  one of the best in the NHL last year at 22 years old when a concussion knocked him out of commission just 10 games into the year.

Bergeron’s return along with the maturation of skilled skaters like Phil Kessel, David Krejci, Blake Wheeler, Vladimir Sobotka and Milan Lucic should help a boost team that finished second from the bottom in scoring (the Islanders actually scored 18 fewer goals than the B’s last season) among Eastern Conference

How much can I make as a shoot-out specialist?

How much can I make as a shoot-out specialist?

teams last season. Kessel will be a huge key if he can play like he did following his benching in the playoffs. Immediate chemistry between Marc Savard and Michael Ryder would also go a long way toward giving Boston the scoring punch they were missing with the clearly calcified Glen Murray last season. 

The biggest key, though, is for the players to remain hungry for respect around the NHL and bent on success in the dormant hockey city of Boston. The trick is to accomplish this without losing sight of what them such a formidable foe in the first place. If you go back and watch Game 6 of last season’s matchup with the Canadiens (I can’t imagine there’s a serious Bruins fan out there who still doesn’t have the game on DVR), that is all the proof you need that people will come — and watch — if there is quality hockey on the frozen sheet. 

It’ll be interesting to see if the Bruins are able to add another defenseman at some point in the season, as the hockey buzz is that Florida Panthers D-man Jay Boumeester is going to be up-for-sale when the playoff sun sets early in Sunrise, Fla. He would be the perfect puck-moving compliment to Zdeno Chara, but for now the Bruins will have to make due with one bruising #1 blueliner on their roster along with a gritty group of 3′s and 4′s.

There’ll be plenty of time this season to pick apart the B’s, however, so here’s Haggs’ predictions across the NHL for the 2008-09 season.

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division: This is probably still the strongest division in the Eastern Conference and I could easily see four playoffs teams coming here. A full season of Malkin and Crosby will be something, but the injuries to Whitney and Gonchar really hurt their blueline bottom line. Bold denotes playoff-bound. 1) Penguins 2) Flyers 3) Rangers 4) Devils 5) Islanders.

Northeast Division: The Canadiens are still very good and could again end the regular season as the Eastern Conference #1 seed. It all depends on Carey Price. The Sens are on their way down and the Maple Leafs will bottom out this year. 1) Canadiens 2) Bruins 3) Sabres 4) Senators 5) Maple Leafs.

Southeast Conference: Washington is clearly the class of this division and ready to take another step up, but watch out for the Lightning and their mullet-maned coach. The Panthers are another member of the Rock Bottom Club. 1) Capitals 2) Lightning 3) Hurricanes 4) Thrashers 5) Panthers.

MVP: Alex Ovechkin, Coach of the Year (Adams): Claude Julien, Norris Trophy Candidate: Zdeno Chara, Vezina Trophy: Henrik Lvndquist, Rookie of the Year (Calder): Steve Stamkos

Western Conference

Central Division: The Red Wings got richer with Marian Hossa (I must say that I actually kind of applaud his willingness to take a one-year deal to win a title) and will have only the baby-faced Blackhawks as competition. 1) Red Wings 2) Blackhawks 3) Blue Jackets 4) Blues 5) Predators.

Northwest Division: 10 points separated the top from the bottom in this division last year, and that could very happen again this season. No team stands out, but all could win a hockey game on any given night. This division could change radically if the Canucks ever find a way to score some goals for Roberto Luongo 1) Wild 2) Flames3) Oilers 4) Avalanche 5) Canucks.

I am so not into hockey players, you hoser

I am so not into hockey players, you hoser

Pacific Division: The most talent-heavy division in the Western Conference and there could be a new sheriff in the form of the Dallas Stars. It all depends on which hot Hollywood starlet Sean Avery goes after next. Could Robin from How I Met Your Mother fame be next? 1) Stars 2) Sharks 3) Ducks 4) Coyotes 5) Kings.

MVP: Brendan Morrow, Coach of the Year: Mike Keenan, Norris Trophy: Nik Lidstrom, Vezina Trophy: Marty Turco, Rookie of the Year: Kyle Turris.

Eastern Conference Finals: Penguins against the Canadiens. Penguins advance in seven games.

Western Conference Finals: Red Wings against the Stars. Stars advance in an epic seven games series.

Stanley Cup Winner: Dallas Stars. Sidney Crosby is again the bridesmaid and starts to get the Peyton Manning, A-Rod “Big Athlete that can’t win the Big Game” treatment. 

 

Ready to drop the puck!

10.09.08 at 5:38 am ET
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Which one of these doesn't belong?

Which one of these doesn't belong?

So, I’ll have a full-blown NHL preview up on PWH at some point today, but I just wanted to troll around the Internet and A) see if I could travel all the way to the end of it or B) find as many NHL previews as possible to get a sense of what the “National” sentiment is concerning the Bruins.

I imagine that most hockey experts are in one of two camps when it comes to the guys in the Spoked B’s sweaters: either they feel like the Bruins showed real improvement with a young cast of characters last season and should be better with ever-maturing prospects skating along with a healthy Patrice Bergeron. The other school of thought is that the Bruins overacheived on some level while sneaking into the playoffs, and they won’t be able to sneak up on unsuspecting hockey teams this season like they did last year.

Bobby Bobblehead says "Yay" to the playoffs

Bobby Bobblehead says "Yay" to the playoffs

I’m more inclined to go with the former theory that the Bruins are playoff-worthy with tight defense and an aggressive sandpaper style of hockey, but this season they should be a bit more potent offensively with Bergeron on the PP. But that’s just me. Let’s see what everyone else has to say:

ESPN’s John Buccigross (who I’ll give full credit to for being one of the few true “hockey guys” in Bristol) has the B’s finishing seventh in the Eastern Conference. An excerpt from his capsule on the Bruins: There is something about this team that I like. I sense a positive vibe around the Bruins that should be enhanced with the return of their best player, Patrice Bergeron. The Bruins have not won a playoff series since 1999, the only series they’ve won since the 1994 lockout. Not the 2004 lockout. They have been a sorry franchise. The Bruins are certainly not a lock to make the postseason, but for the first time in a while, Boston seems to have some organizational passion and a plan. The margin for error is small. The key players need to be healthy, and the young players need to be important players without a drop-off.

The Hockey News has the Bruins finishing tenth in the Eastern Conference: There isn’t much explanation behind their pick on the Hockey News web site, but they see the Bruins finishing ahead of only the Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers, Atlanta Thrashers, Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders. This is one prognostication that I would consider the “glass half-emptiest prediction.”

Sports Illustrated picks the Bruins to finish seventh in the East and again qualify for the playoffs while also picking Zdeno Chara as the Northeast Division MVP and Milan Lucic as the division’s “player to watch”: Don’t mistake these Bruins for the bruisers who famously carried the club in the 1970s and ’80s, but this is the Northeast’s most physical team, and Boston should bully its way to a second straight playoff berth.  Boston was 24th in the NHL in goals last season, something the addition of free agent Michael Ryder will help but won’t cure by itself. The Bruins’ real center of attention is mild-mannered pivot Patrice Bergeron (above), who missed all but 10 games of the Bruins’ 18-point revival last season. 

Yahoo Sports Hockey Editor Ross McKeon picked the Bruins third in the Northeast Division, but says they’ll

Dude...seriously.

Dude...seriously.

 be hard-pressed to again make the playoffs (one thing I would say is that he really needs to get over the Joe Thornton trade): The Bruins still miss Joe Thornton, whether they admit it or not. It seems like everything is going to have to go right for Boston to be a solid playoff team, sand considering all the bumps a team faces in the regular season, the guess is the Bruins will be in a dogfight to slip into a playoff spot again. 

CBS Sportsline’s Wes GoldStein has the Bruins finishing second in the Northeast Division and has coach Coach Claude Julien winning the Adams Award this season: The Bruins accelerated their building process with a surprise appearance in the playoffs last season and nearly upsetting Montreal in the first round. The expectations will be higher this time. The best news though for Boston has been the return of Patrice Bergeron, who missed almost all of last season because of a concussion, and has looked very good in the preseason. 

Inside Hockey’s James Murphy has the Bruins finishing seventh in the Eastern Conference and making the playoffs: The Bruins were one of last season’s most pleasant surprises, reverting back to the hard working, bruising style that defined them when the likes of Terry O’Reilly and Cam Neely wore the black and gold with pride. Much like those Bruins icons, sophomore winger Milan Lucic has become one of the faces of the franchise. The biggest additions are three players returning from injuries — center Patrice Bergeron, defenseman Andrew Alberts, and goaltender Manny Fernandez — all of whom could make a huge impact. If Tim Thomas can deliver a repeat performance between the pipes and Fernandez can provide a solid complement, the Bruins are fine in goal, and the Zdeno Chara-led defense is unquestionably stout. The biggest question is whether newcomer Michael Ryder and the returning Bergeron can conspire to make the Bruins’ offense click. 

Fox Sports’ Darren Spang sees the Bruins returning to the playoffs and Spector (apprently rock stars and hockey analysts are in the same boat when it comes to one name monikers) has the Bruins finishing seventh in the Eastern Conference: The return of a healthy Patrice Bergeron at center should provide a significant boost to their offense. A consistent performance this season by goaltender Tim Thomas should bolster the Bruins’ postseason hopes. The improvement of young forwards Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic and David Krejci could also boost their forward depth, while head coach Claude Julien’s defensive system should make the Bruins tough to score against. Captain Zdeno Chara is still nursing a shoulder injury from last season and management is on the lookout for another puck-moving defenseman. While some gaps in the roster remain to be addressed, the Bruins appear in better shape this season than they were a year ago.  

Be back in a bit with my own take on the Bruins and the NHL this season…let’s drop the puck already!

Read More: Andrew Alberts, Boston Bruins, Cam Neely, Claude Julien

Alberts not worried about trades

10.07.08 at 10:25 pm ET
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"Hey Z...Don't let them send me to Altoona."

"Hey Z...Don't let them send me to Altoona."

Life hasn’t exactly been a bunch of icing-topped cupcakes for Andrew Alberts over the past month of his hockey life.

The 27-year-old defenseman got off a slow start after essentially getting tossed into a Bruins training camp that featured games within the first 72 hours of preseason’s actual kick-off, and he only just recently felt as if he was his normal hard-hitting, defensively-reliable self. Quarterbacking the power play or stealing the breath away from an arena crowd with his skating ability aren’t ever going to be in Alberts’ bag of puck tricks, but — as everyone’s favorite hoodie model/football coach is so fond of saying – he is what he is: a bruising 6-foot-4, 220-pound defenseman that’s at his best when he’s making the opposition think twice about going in the corners and utilizing his physical strength to steer players away from the front of the net.

McFilthy...

McFilthy...

It’s certainly true that Alberts hasn’t been quite the same since suffering a concussion at the hands of the McFilthy and McNasty Philadelphia Flyers mid-way through last season (for those unclear which dirty Scott Hartnell hit I’m talking about…here it is), but he truly felt like he’d begun to put things together last weekend.  Albie stepped up and unloaded a few shots, notched a few body hits and started feeling in the flow during a Saturday tune-up against the Islanders, but then he took a frustrating step back in Sunday’s preseason finale when he was a step behind the action, careless with the puck and finished with a -2 on the evening.

“It was a busy preseason with a lot of travel. Last year I got into a couple of

McNasty? Really?

McNasty? Really?

games at the end, but I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been,” said Alberts. “It took a while to get adjusted to thinking quickly on the ice and game situations, but it’s coming along. I thought I played my best game on Saturday [against the Islanders] but Sunday wasn’t very good.

“Obviously there’s so many good young guys here this year pushing for a spot, and it seems like it’s by far the most that we’ve had here in the three years that I’ve been here,” added Alberts. “Right now we have numbers and names being thrown around a lot. All you can do is come to the rink, do your work and not worry about things you can’t control. It’s up to the staff.”

The Bruins are roughly $250,000 under the salary cap with the 23 players currently earmarked to make the trip to the Pepsi Center in Colorado for the Oct. 9 season-opener, but Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli is surely looking to clear up more capital space under the cap. Alberts is a logical candidate to be moved because he’s in the last year of his rookie deal and his $1.25 million would give Chiarelli the kind of salary cap breathing room he covets. His name has been tossed around in trade talks with several teams, but none of these “hot stove” hockey rumors have gained much traction. Many of Alberts’ teammates lamented the annual tense, stress-filled uncertainty that accompanies the regular season roster deadline, but have made peace with that side of the hockey business.

“The toughest part about it as an athlete is remembering that there’s a facet of this job that’s all about economics,” said B’s blueliner Aaron Ward. “There’s so much that goes into making up a team. i think now moreso than ever players are uneasy about where they fit into a team. Your salary along with your personality and your skill has to fit into the team. No longer are you just simply good enough.”

Rosters must be “good enough” by 3 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, so the answers for both Alberts, the Bruins and…well…the media will be forthcoming shortly. Alberts hopes to be in Boston when the ice chips clear, but he’s also well aware that the business of hockey could whisk him away to some other hockey city sooner rather than later. 

“You guys know more than I do,” said Alberts. “I try not to listen to the radio or look at papers, and I just come to the rink every day and do my job. I have friends texting me all the time asking if I’m going to Vancouver or going to Chicago, and telling what’s being said out there. I tell them I really don’t know anything.

“We’ll see what happens,” added Alberts. “There’s nothing you can really do. It’s part of the game.”

Read More: Aaron Ward, Andrew Alberts, Boston Bruins, Peter Chiarelli

Cut-down day for the Bruins

10.07.08 at 12:21 pm ET
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Would you like #18, Mr. Wheeler?

Would you like #18, Mr. Wheeler?

The days leading up to the regular season are always a difficult time mixed with happiness and melancholy in the world of an NHL team, and the past several weeks have been more so for the Black and Gold given their depth situation. The Bruins haven’t boasted a team this deep or talented since prior to the NHL lockout, and the new salary cap wrinkle with regard to rookie bonus money has complIcated matters.

The emergence of 22-year-old rookie Blake Wheeler made it imperative that Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli clear room for the $2.85 million cap hit that Wheeler’s contract carries due to the rookie bonus money built into his deal. With that move in mind, forward Peter Schaefer ($2.1 million), Jeremy Reich ($487,500) and Nate Thompson ($500K) were all placed on waivers and young blueliner Matt Hunwick ($750K) was assigned to the Providence Bruins. It’s hard to imagine Thompson and Reich clearing through waivers given their hockey value and the affordable price tags that go along with them.

Chiarelli dilligently attempted to jettison Schaefer during the last few weeks of training camp, but Schaefer’s salary combined with last season’s underperformance (9 goals, 17 assists and countless DNP-CD’s in 63 games after notching 50 points and 46 respectively over the previous two seasons with the Ottawa Senators) left the Bruins GM without much a market. Give credit to both Chiarelli for essentially admitting that the signing of Schaefer turned out to be a free agent mistake, and to owner Jeremy Jacobs for agreeing to potentially swallow the entirety of Schaefer’s $2.1 million deal should he go unclaimed. It was obvious to everyone that Claude Julien wanted Big Wheeler on his roster from jump street, and both Chiarelli and Jacobs made difficult, appropriate decisions to make it happen.

According to an excellent site on NHL Salary Caps called Hockey Buzz the Bruins are now only $242,501 under the $56.7 million salary cap for the 2008-09 season, so expect another move potentially involving Andrew Ference,P.J. Axelsson or Andrew Alberts. Both defenseman and Axe would draw interest around the league and each is being paid in excess of $1 million — a sum that would give Chiarelli the room he’s looking for under the cap. I spoke with Alberts about recently hearing his name in trade rumors with both Vancouver and Chicago, and I’ll have a little something up on the blog about that in two shakes of a hockey stick.

In the meantime, here’s some thoughts from Chiarelli earlier this afternoon while addressing the B’s media corps about the roster moves:

PC: So we’ve made some roster moves to get us down to 23 on our roster. We’ve released Peter Schaefer and he’s on waivers today, and he’ll be designated for reassignment pending whether he’s claimed or not. We’ve put Jeremy Reich on waivers, so we’ll see if he clears in another 24 hours. Nate Thompson and Matt Hunwick. Nate will go on waivers too for 24 hours too, and Matt is a pure assignment with no waivers.

Was that a difficult decision with Schaefer or was that something that was pretty cut-and-dried? PC: Yeah, it was difficult. I have had a history with him in Ottawa and I brought him in here, but it wasn’t working out. I know he’s a good player and these things happen. We talked yesterday and we had a good talk. He may end up in another NHL city or he may end up in Providence.

Was there a lot of dissapointment on his end when you talked to him? PC: He’s been around the league for a while and I think he knew what was coming especially given the play of Blake Wheeler. He pretty much expected it is what he told me. He was disappointed that it didn’t work out here.

Was there a lot of trade feelers put out there before it came to this? PC: Oh yeah. It’s tough now. What happens is right now you’re looking at the roster and generally you’re really happy about it because you see all these competitions where somebody wins and somebody loses. So it’s tough now moving guys. But that changes in a week to a month when teams start not playing well.

Would you be open to using him on re-entry or is that not an option? PC: That’s something that down the road we might look at, but right now no. I need all the cap space I can get.

Did he have any insight as to why things didn’t work out with him here? PC: Yeah, but that will remain private. If you catch up with him he may say it, but I’m not going to talk for him.

So with these moves how much room do you have under the salary cap? PC: We’re still pretty tight. This may not be our final roster. There may be one more move before we leave tomorrow, but we’ll see how the rest of the day plays out.

Can you give us any indication as to what that move might be? PC: Ummm no. Not yet.

From the standpoint of depth within the organization, can you be hurt if somehow they all get claimed? PC: It speaks to two things: One that we’ve had all these difficult decisions and in my years here we haven’t had those kinds of difficult decisions, so it means that we have depth. We have teams calling about these players. Organizationally we’re in a good spot. But if we lose these players then our depth gets tested. But we have had some good perfromances in camp by guys that we’ve already released and sent down that I’d be comfortable with in certain instances.

Speak to how the loss of the bonus cushion has affected your decision-making? PC: Well it certainly has, but those are the rules we’re playing with this year. It might have saved a job or two, but I look at it like you’ve got to ice the best team possible. That’s how I look at it.

Speaking of Blake, preseason is obviously a very short window but do you feel like he’s good enough to be with this team over the long haul? PC: We still may have one more move, but Blake has made the team. We’re going to take it slowly. I liken it to Looch a little bit last year, but he’s a couple of years older. I want him to continue working hard and continue practicing hard and see a progression. The level of play really picks up now, so we’ll see how he does.

Did going through the development of Lucic last year help you trust your judgement a little more with Wheeler this year? PC: A little bit, but there’s a three-year age difference and that’s big at this point. What it does speak to is the coaching staff and their ability to help develop these young guys.

Is Wheeler making the team more or a surprise than Lucic last year? PC: Don’t forget that Blake was the fifth pick overall during his draft year, so he comes with a pretty thick resume. I guess as a third party you woud look down at this and expect him to make it rather than Lucic, with all things being equal.

How do you see the goaltending heading into the season? PC: I’m happy where they’re at. They both had good camps. Our objective was to have a strong duo and I think that’s what we’re getting.

Do you think in this day and age that any NHL team needs two goaltenders to get through a season? PC: I think it certainly helps. You can see the wear and tear with a couple of goalies that played a ton of games and you could see it impacted their playoff performance. So it definitely helps.

Read More: Andrew Alberts, Blake Wheeler, Jeremy Reich, Matt Hunwick
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