Archive for August, 2010

X-factors: Blake Wheeler

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Blake Wheeler has gotten attention for all the wrong reasons. (AP)

Blake Wheeler has gotten attention for all the wrong reasons. (AP)

Each day this week, WEEI.com will be putting a player or position in the spotlight based on their “X-factor” status entering the season. So far, we’ve taken a look at Michael Ryder, as well as the goaltending position. Up next is a man who — fairly or unfairly — might have to win some fans back in winger Blake Wheeler following a streaky and up-and-down season.

Something’s being written about Blake Wheeler? This offseason? We know — given his arbitration case, Wheeler may have been the most blogged about Bruin this side of Tyler Seguin, so this one will stay away from the usual stuff. Unlike what seemed to be minute-by-minute updates of the whole arbitration process in Toronto last month, this will be more of a look at how Wheeler can be one of the offense’s top contributors or one of its bigger disappointments. For that reason, it’s impossible to keep Wheeler out of this series.

Wheeler is a similar case to Ryder in that he’s a winger who at times both underachieved and infuriated fans throughout the 2009-10 season. Unlike Ryder, Wheeler is not set to hit free agency following the coming season, but he is playing for a contract in that he’ll be restricted at the end of the season. The motivation is there for Wheeler to put up big numbers, but he seems motivated enough as he prepares for his third NHL season.

Wheeler’s value is as a scorer undoubtedly, but his lack of physicality left people with something to be desired. Factor in that he didn’t crack 20 goals (he chipped in 18) and the naysayers didn’t have much difficulty making an argument against a timid winger who had scoreless stretches of 15, 12, and nine games.

So will this be Wheeler’s breakout season? He’ll be 24 when the season starts and he’s armed with a 6-foot-5 frame that, if filled out and utilized, could serve as an advantage. Based on his offseason evaluations of himself, Wheeler doesn’t expect to warrant any complaints about toughness again.

“I think for me it’s all about — especially on the forecheck — being more physical, more of a presence. I think I’ve gotten so focused on the offensive production and the numbers side of things, especially last year, where I think there’s definitely more ways to be a contributing factor out on the ice,” Wheeler said shortly after inking his deal. “It’s just all about understanding your areas of strengths and your areas of weakness. I think if I can just assert myself more physically, especially on the forecheck and things of that nature, it’s going to create a lot more opportunities for myself and the guys I’m playing with to get more offensive opportunities. Sometimes it’s about less is more, and when you kind of take a step back from things, it’s a little bit easier to notice where you may be able to improve on things.” (more…)

Ward retires

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Former Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward has announced his retirement from the league after spending the last season of his 13-year career between the Carolina Hurricanes and Anaheim Ducks. He won three Stanley Cups in his career.

Ward joined the Bruins in a February 2007 trade with the Rangers that sent Belmont native Paul Mara to New York. Ward played 20 games with the Bruins that season and spent the next two in Boston, totaling 26 points with the team. He was traded to the Hurricanes last offseason in exchange for Patrick Eaves and a fourth-round draft pick.

While in Boston, Ward also created his “Cuts for a Cause” charity event with what was at the time WBCN 104.1 FM. In its two year history, which began in 2008, the Bruins had seven and 13 players shave their heads, respectively, to benefit the MassGeneral Hospital for Children.

X-Factors: Tuukka and Tim

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010
As long as Tim Thomas around, he can make a difference in split time. (AP)

As long as Tim Thomas is around, he can make a difference in split time. (AP)

Each day this week, WEEI.com will be putting a player or position in the spotlight based on their “X-factor” status entering the season. Monday, we took a look at Michael Ryder. Up next are the two men between the pipes in Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas.

Though it may be a bit strange to not consider strong goaltending to be a sure thing in Boston given the past two seasons, it is certainly worth looking into what type of production the Bruins can expect from their netminders. Each player has something big to deal with in 2010-11. For Thomas, its another year under his belt and for Rask it’s the dreaded sophomore slump.

For the Bruins, and this goes against most of the fans’ wishes this offseason, it would appear the right choice was made in not dealing Thomas and his $5 million salary cap hit. The fact of the matter is that though he is 36 years of age, is coming off hip surgery and did not show his Vezina form last season, Thomas is of utmost important to the Bruins’ operation. He started the majority of Boston’s regular season games and posted a respectable 2.56 goals against average last season. He didn’t get a single start in the postseason, but he played just as big a role as Rask in getting the team there.

So why all the negativity surrounding Thomas? One would have to guess it can’t be fun going into each season with fans expecting you to lose your job, something Thomas has undoubtedly had to deal with for quite some time. Though he made $1.8 million more than Rask (after the rookie’s performance bonuses), evaluating the position as a whole based on cap hit would actually suggest the Bruins are paying a fair price.

Entering the coming season, the Bruins will be paying $6.25 million for a tandem that gave them a 2.33 goals against average over 82 games last season. The team’s GAA was second to only the Devils. For a frame of reference regarding that $6.25 million number, that’s exactly how much reigning Vezina winner Ryan Miller will be making with the Sabres next season. Though Thomas’ cap hit may be alarming by itself, the Bruins are paying a manageable amount for perhaps the league’s best duo in net. (more…)

Agent: ‘No rush’ on Chara deal

Monday, August 23rd, 2010
Will Zdeno Chara be re-signed? (AP photo)

Will Zdeno Chara be re-signed? (AP)

These days, when a Bruins contract is brought up, it is done so in a conversation about how the B’s must clear money and distance themselves from the salary cap. The team is over $3 million over the cap and will need to move a big contract when Marco Sturm returns from his long-term injury status.

Maybe this is why there hasn’t been much of a commotion when it comes to extending the team’s impending free agents. While the contracts of Sturm, Tim Thomas, Michael Ryder and Andrew Ference receive regular attention, a guy like Zdeno Chara prepares to enter what could be his last season in Boston.

Chara signed a five-year, $37.5 million deal as a free agent with the Bruins in 2006 and has been a key member of the team since, contributing as both the team’s top defenseman and its captain. Though there have been points at which Chara’s camp and the Bruins have touched lightly on the possibility of an extension, nothing has progressed past the preliminary stage.

Chara’s agent, Matt Keator, told WEEI.com Sunday night that he and Chara are taking a “wait and see” approach, and that there’s “no rush now at all.”

Chara is the team’s highest-paid player and, at $7.5 million, has a cap hit that’s more than $4 million higher than any other defenseman on the team. Dennis Seidenberg is the team’s second-highest-paid blueliner at $3.25 million per year.

The Bruins would be wise to try to swing a deal with Chara’s camp before he hits free agency, as he would likely cash in on the open market, as he did in ’06 after bolting the Senators. Chara’s value to the team seems to be worth the high price tag, as he is the first Bruin to win the Norris Trophy since Ray Bourque, a feat Chara accomplished in 2008-09. He also led the team in plus-minus last season.

The Bruins likely will do what they can to bring Chara back. With Ryder and Sturm coming off the books at season’s end, the team will have some money to throw at the likes of Chara, Patrice Bergeron and Mark Stuart, but all is quiet for now.

X-factors: Michael Ryder

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Michael Ryder could end up being valuable to the Bruins' offense once again. (AP photo)

Michael Ryder could end up being valuable to the Bruins offense once again, but will he even be in Boston? (AP)

Each day this week, WEEI.com will be putting a player or position in the spotlight based on their “X-factor” status entering the season. Michael Ryder is up first.

Who better to kick this series off than a guy who fans wanted gone in the offseason but could end up having a major offensive impact in 2010-11? No, it’s not Marc Savard, but rather right wing Michael Ryder. Given his $4 million cap hit and inconsistency last season, it has been rare to hear Ryder’s name in the past few months without also hearing “trade,” “buyout,” or “Providence.” To the contrary, the likelihood is that Ryder will indeed be with the club when the Bruins begin their season in Prague in just over six weeks.

Bruins head coach Claude Julien has been known for — in both positive and negative connotations — being a big supporter of Ryder. He spoke to the lack of appreciation and credit the winger has been given when he gave the “Michael just had one bad year” (2007-08) quote during the 2008-09 playoffs. Though he also pointed to him as a guy the team didn’t get enough of at times last season, he still seems to be one of Ryder’s biggest fans.

Though Julien’s fondness of Ryder dates back to their days in Montreal, Bruins fans aren’t quite as loyal to the now 30-year-old, and perhaps for good reason. After a debut season in which he finished second to Phil Kessel in goals with 27 and had 53 points, Ryder’s jersey sales likely took a major hit in the 2009-10 season.

Though the offense as a whole was never as powerful as it was when the team finished second in the NHL in scoring, Ryder was among those who took the brunt of it. The line that looked so good a season before consisting of him and Blake Wheeler with David Krejci in the middle wasn’t so hot the second time around and everybody took notice. Ryder finished the season with just 18 goals and his 33 points put him in a tie for seventh on the league’s worst offensive team. (more…)

Report: Whitfield could miss season

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

Bruins center Trent Whitfield, who spent the majority of his last season playing for Providence, has a ruptured Achilles tendon and could miss the entire year, according to SomethingsBruin.net.

In 52 games for the Providence Bruins, Whitfield scored 17 goals and added 26 assists. He played 16 games for Boston and had one assist. The 33-year-old likely was not in Claude Julien’s plans for the upcoming season but the injury is certainly a case of losing depth at an important position.

The Bruins already have the likes of Marc Savard, David Krejci, Tyler SeguinPatrice Bergeron, and Gregory Campbell at center as they prepare for training camp next month.

Bruins tickets go on sale Sept. 10

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

The Bruins announced Wednesday that individual game tickets for the upcoming season will go on sale Friday, Sept. 10, at 11 a.m.

Tickets for the Bruins’ home games at TD Garden will be priced from $10-$294 per seat. The cost of the ticket will vary depending on the opponent and date. Both the Tufts Medical Center family section and the Chipotle student section will offer reduced prices at various points of the season.

Tickets can be purchased at the TD Garden box office or at the Bruins official website. Though full season-ticket packages are sold out, 21, 10, and five-game plans are still available for those interested in buying in bulk.