Archive for October, 2009

NHL Power Rankings

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

There are a ton of cool success stories in the NHL this season, even if that hasn’t been the case in Boston thus far. The Avalanche, Oilers and Senators all have sneaked into the top 10 without marquee names or much fanfare, as the wins keep piling up for each of these surprise franchises.

Meanwhile, the No. 1 spot continues to reside with Pittsburgh, where the talk is about how boring the season’s first few weeks have been for an awesome hockey power that hasn’t been challenged by anything or anyone in the early going. Barring injury, there might not be a week this season when the Penguins aren’t waddling their way through the very top of the power rankings.

For big movers and shakers, we’re buying into the Thrashers, at least as quasi-real. Atlanta has moved up 11 spots from No. 26 to No. 15. The Flyers, on the other hand, have dropped seven spots from No. 6 to No. 13 after a three-game winless streak. Meanwhile, the Bruins sit at No. 19 behind many teams that have nowhere near the talent that sits on the Boston roster.

At least the Maple Leafs continue to stink.

As New England Sports Museum curator Dick Johnson wrote in my favorite Facebook quote of the week:

“The Maple Leaf situation reminds me of an old joke. … Dark brown is beef stock … light brown is chicken stock … and royal blue is laughing stock.”

Well played, Dick, well played.

Here are the WEEI.com NHL power rankings:

1. 7-1-0 (1 last week). No hangover for these Penguins after last year’s Stanley Cup championship. That seems to have only made a hungry bunch more determined and confident than ever. Pittsburgh is undefeated on the road and has taken down just about everyone in their path. The only question is how on earth defenseman Sergei Gonchar is a minus-2 on this dynastic club.

2. 5-2-1 (4) The Blackhawks have one incredibly weak link in Cristobal Huet but have been rolling otherwise. The Hawks are — in many ways — the Western Conference mirror image of the Bruins, but have done a much better job handling raised expectations and adversity in the early season. Who could have guessed that UVM’s Patrick Sharp would be their leading scorer with 10 points (5 goals, 5 assists) through eight games?

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B’s pull off trade with Sabres for Paille

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

The Boston Bruins made a counter-move Tuesday two days after the Chuck Kobasew deal and traded a pair of 2010 draft picks — a third round pick and a conditional fourth-round pick — for Buffalo Sabres forward Daniel Paille. The hard-edged, skilled Paille had 12 goals and 15 assists for 27 points in Buffalo last season and has one assist in two games for the Sabres this season.

 The 25-year-old Paille had his best season for the Sabres in 2007-08 when he had 19 goals and 16 assists in 77 games. The move gives the Bruins a solid left wing with a cap hit of only $1.125 million that can potentially replace Lucic on the second line for the next two months while the hulking forward recovers from a broken right index finger. Paille will be a restricted free agent following this season. 

According to the Bruins press release, it’s the first trade ever executed between the Boston and Buffalo organizations dating back to their Adams Division days as head-to-head rivals. The Bruins did trade the rights to unsigned free agent Andre Savard to the Sabres for fellow unsigned free agent Peter McNab, but that swap was never officially recognized as a trade by the NHL, according to the Bruins PR staff.

B’s GM Peter Chiarelli was also able to pull off the deal without raiding his treasure chest of nine first and second round draft picks in the 2010 and 2011 NHL drafts. Paille is expected to be available to play Wednesday against the Nashville Predators at TD Garden.

New lines beginning to form for Bruins

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

WILMINGTON — The lines are beginning to take shape in the wake of the Chuck Kobasew trade to the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday morning, and it appears that coach Claude Julien will be taking advantage of Johnny Boychuk’s versatility for the time being.

Rookie Brad Marchand has stepped in for Kobasew and is skating the left wing alongside Patrice Bergeron and — surprise, surprise – Michael Ryder. Vladimir Sobotka is filling in for the injured Milan Lucic, and is skating the left wing along with David Krejci and Blake Wheeler. Boychuk, who has played forward as well as defenseman during his pro career, is filling in for Shawn Thornton and skating the wing along with Steve Begin and Byron Bitz.

Thornton missed his second straight day of practice and is “banged up” according to Julien, but it didn’t seem like the B’s head coach was all that concerned about his brawler missing Wednesday’s game against the Nashville Predators.

“It’s maintenance. I think he’s day to day. He’s banged up a little bit and it was advised to us to give him another day,” said Julien. “With the number of players we’re just looking to put four lines together. One day it’s Hunwick, one day it’s Boychuk. The next day it may be somebody else. It’s never a bad thing anyway to do those things, so in a pinch it gives him a chance to practice at those positions.” 

A situation like this shows why the B’s have so much value placed in both Boychuk and Matt Hunwick. Both defensemen have also shown a demonstrated ability to play the forward position, and give Julien all sorts of options when injuries can and do arise.

Thornton is missing from the second consecutive of practice after Julien said that it was a maintenance day for the forward Monday.

So the lines look like this:

Marco SturmMarc SavardMark Recchi

Vladimir Sobotka — David Krejci — Blake Wheeler

Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron — Michael Ryder

Byron Bitz – Steve Begin — Johnny Boychuk

Andrew Ference also left the practice ice after an hour when he apparently took either a stick or puck to the face, and didn’t return to the Tuesday morning session.

Wideman optimistic about playing Wednesday

Monday, October 19th, 2009

WILMINGTON — Dennis Wideman missed last weekend’s two-game road trip through Dallas and Phoenix with an injured left shoulder, but skated with his teammates Monday morning at practice. The 26-year-old defenseman injured the shoulder after taking an awkward tumble into the boards during the second period of Boston’s shootout loss to the New York Islanders more than a week ago. He was optimistic that his shoulder would be healed up enough to suit up against the Nashville Predators Wednesday night at TD Garden, but wasn’t ready to pronounce himself a definite go.

“It feels good, but we’ll see. I’ll take another step and we’ll see how the next couple of days go,” said Wideman. “It felt pretty good today. It was a little different. That was probably the first time I missed a road trip with an injury and couldn’t go. So it’s a different thing. For as long as you play something like that is going to happen eventually.”

Kobasew trade sends message to remaining Bruins

Monday, October 19th, 2009

WILMINGTON — Chuck Kobasew was a beloved member of the Bruins, and if trading him to the Minnesota Wild Sunday was a message of dissatisfaction from management — as it was articulated by both general manager and coach in its aftermath – well, then the cannon ball shot was received loud and clear by the players on Monday morning.

The 27-year-old Kobasew stumbled out of the gate this season with only a single assist in seven games, and seemed to be an unwitting victim of a hibernating Bruins unit unable to snap out of their prolonged .500 slumber. The hard-nosed veteran and 20-goal scorer was traded for both salary cap reasons and a little bit of good-old fashioned message-sending from B’s GM Peter Chiarelli.

The B’s top decision-maker hopes that the addition of some young P-Bruins blood in Vladimir Sobotka and Brad Marchand can spark a team that’s been the very definition of lethargic for far too long this autumn. The Black and Gold have been unable to shake a funk of inconsistency to start the season, and have flashed little passion or anger in their game — aside from a revenge special against the Carolina Hurricanes. Chiarelli felt it was time to make things a tad bit uncomfortable in the B’s dressing room. Judging from the reaction of the players at practice and after the session was over, it was mission accomplished.

The B’s executive also admitted that he couldn’t have summoned Marchand and Sobotka from Providence without jettisoning Kobasew and effectively unlocking the salary cap handcuffs wrapped around the team. The reports that the team had $1.6 million in cap space prior to the deal appear to have been greatly exaggerated. The B’s couldn’t even afford to keep Sobotka in Boston to begin the season, which spurred his demotion to Providence.

“It’s a combination of a number of factors. Certainly our play has been on and off and that was part of it,” said Chiarelli, who had been in discussions with several clubs for a period two weeks. “The two guys we brought up have been playing pretty well in Providence. It also gives us a little of salary cap flexibility for this year and for next year, so it was a good time for all those things. But it was primarily based on our play.

“The fellows we brought up our young, energetic and enthusiastic, and I thought that we needed an injection of that into our lineup. It’s a little bit of [frustration]. It’s not a complete reactionary move. It’s something that addresses a lot of things. I’m not satisfied with our start. Friday night,  I thought we a terrific game in all areas and then it was disappointing to see Saturday. Work is being done and we’re turning the corner a bit, but in large part on a game-to-game basis I don’t see the passion that I saw before. We have to get that back.”

Tim Thomas was a little more succinct.

“My gut feeling tells me that [the trade] is a shot across the bow. Wake up or else changes will be made,” said Thomas. “My first reaction was surprise. I guess I hadn’t been thinking along those lines of any trades at all. It’s a funny business where a guy can be a teammate for going on three years, and then he’s gone.”

The deal obviously clears Kobasew’s $2.3 million from the books both this year and next year — which could become a factor in extension talks with Marc Savard — and allows Boston much more financial flexibility moving forward. Kobasew’s cap hit was something of a luxury for a third-line grinder in this brave, new world of salary cap era hockey.

All that being said, Kobasew is another veteran leader in the B’s dressing room that has now moved on, and joins a leadership exodus that included Aaron Ward, Stephane Yelle, P.J. Axelsson, Shane Hnidy and now the veteran right winger.

The move perhaps hit closest with 23-year-old Patrice Bergeron, who has watched several great friends move on from Boston after the two-way center developed close relationships with them. First it was Marty Lapointe that mentored Bergeron and allowed the rookie to live with his family during his first NHL season. Then it was Brad Boyes after Bergeron had formed into a dynamic scoring tandem with the natural goal-scorer before his trade to the St. Louis Blues. Now it’s Bergeron’s roommate during road trips, Kobasew, that has been shipped off to a different NHL locale.

It’s all part of the pro sports business, but the move should certainly shake up the B’s locker room’s comfort level. In the view of the decision-makers, the players still seems to be daydreaming about the Stanley Cup rather than rolling up their sleeves and working toward it. Bergeron said he spoke with Kobasew on Sunday following the deal, and the gritty forward was understandably reluctant to leave his home for the last three seasons in Boston.

“You never worried about his work ethic. He was my roommate on the road too. It’s always hard to see somebody go, but it happens. It’s tough, but at the same time it’s a business,” said Bergeron. “I really wish him the best. He’s such a good guy. The type of guy you always want on your team. But with the way things were going, that’s something that’s going to happen. We just have to deal with this as a team when somebody like that has to go because of the situation.”

The Bruins have now paid a price for their sluggish seven-game start to a season filled with sky-high expectations. It’s up to the remaining Black and Gold skaters to heed the unmistakable message and act on it.

Lucic out 4-6 weeks with a broken right index finger

Monday, October 19th, 2009

WILMINGTON — The Bruins doled out more good news at Monday morning practice when Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli revealed that Milan Lucic had surgery Sunday for a broken right finger, and will miss 4-6 weeks with the injury. Claude Julien corrected the diagnosis at his press availability and revealed that the hulking left forward underwent surgery for a broken right index finger. 

“Anytime you lose a guy like Looch, you’re losing a player that usually has a pretty good impact on the game when he’s on top of it,” said Julien. “It’s certainly going to hurt. I think we saw him more like the player we wanted him to be against Dallas. So it’s going to hurt, but it’s going to give somebody else an opportunity a chance to step.

“We’ve always been a team that’s responded well to that in the past.”

Lucic was placed on long term injured reserve list Sunday amid a flurry of moves by the Bruins, and that requires that the bruising left winger miss at least 10 games and 24 days due to the injury.

“He’ll probably be [out] anywhere between 4-6 weeks. He had surgery on his [finger],” said Chiarelli of Lucic’s injury.

Savard, Lefebvre and Thornton missing from practice

Monday, October 19th, 2009

WILMINGTON — The Kobasew-less Bruins have taken the ice at Ristuccia Arena and there’s absolutely a crispness to the player’s normal business today. Injured defenseman Dennis Wideman (left shoulder) is back out on the ice practicing with the team, and both Providence recruits Brad Marchand and Vladimir Sobotka are skating with the team.

Marc Savard, Guillaume Lefebvre and Shawn Thornton are all missing from the practice ice this morning, and B’s GM Peter Chiarelli is scheduled to address the media about the Chuck Kobasew deal following Monday morning’s practice.