Archive for May, 2012

Looking back and ahead: Jordan Caron

Friday, May 18th, 2012

With the Bruins’ season in the books, WEEI.com will take a look at each player on the roster one-by-one to provide some perspective on what went wrong this season and what the future holds for the 2011 champions.

Jordan Caron had seven goals this season for the B's. (AP)

Jordan Caron

Age: 21

2011-12 stats: 48 games played, 7 goals, 8 assists, 15 points, even rating

Contract status: signed through 2012-13 season ($1.1 million cap hit), restricted free agent after next season

Looking back: After going back and forth between Boston and Providence and playing in 23 NHL games in the 2010-11 season, Caron’s goal this time around was to stay with the big club for the entire 2011-12 campaign.

That didn’t exactly happen, as Caron was sent to Providence six different times this past season. Unlike his first taste of the NHL in the Bruins’ Cup-winning season, however, Caron was able to sustain a stretch in which he made clear why the Bruins selected him in the first round of the 2009 draft.

Caron totaled eight points over a six-game run from March 4-13 (four goals, four assists), and even saw his impressive play earn him time as a top-six forward after spending the vast majority of his NHL ice time as a third-or-fourth-liner.

Though his improved play down the stretch forced Daniel Paille to sit as the healthy scratch late in the season, Caron began the postseason in the press box. When the Bruins were struggling for offensive production in the first round, it seemed Caron could be inserted into the lineup in place of a fourth-liner in hopes of giving the team a bit of an offensive spark. Such strategy became a moot point, as Patrice Bergeron‘s oblique injury (which prevented him from taking faceoffs), forced Julien to play Caron instead of Shawn Thornton for the last two games against Washington just in case Bergeron went down during the game and the team needed a noter top-six forward.

Bergeron was able to play through the pain in Games 6 and 7, so Caron averaged 6:41 of ice time in his first two career playoff games.

Looking ahead: While Benoit Pouliot‘s surprising consistency and the trade for Brian Rolston made it tough for Caron to stay in the lineup (and even on the NHL roster) for the entire season, you would have to think that next season will be Caron’s time to stick.

Given the plethora of free agent forwards (Rolston, Chris Kelly, Paille, Gregory Campbell and the restricted Pouliot) and the fact that the B’s wouldn’t want to stunt to their former first-round pick’s development, the stars seem to be aligning for Caron to finally be given a full-time chance in the NHL.

Caron has spent practically all of his time in the NHL this point as a bottom-six forward when he’s been in the lineup, and it would seem that he’ll be in for more of the same next year. If Paille isn’t re-signed, Caron could end up skating with Campbell and Thornton while pushing for time on the third line. That isn’t to say there might not be immediate opportunity for Caron on the third line by the time training camp rolls around. Rolston could retire, the team could opt to not retain Pouliot or Kelly could opt for a bigger paycheck in a different market. Should Kelly leave, Rich Peverley could be an option to play center in Kelly’s place, and if either Rolston or Pouliot isn’t back, Caron could take the vacated wing spot. The Quebec native has played both left and right wing in the NHL for the B’s.

The thinking here is that the Bruins should do what they can to ensure Caron gets a prolonged look on the third line next season, preferably with Kelly as the pivot should they bring back the alternate captain. While the team’s offensive depth is undeniable, the Bruins have yet to fully replace Michael Ryder‘s offensive production with a third-line winger. With a full season, something along the lines of 18 goals shouldn’t be too out of reach for Caron.

Regardless of line he plays on next season, Caron will also be an option to serve more as a penalty killer for the B’s. Claude Julien obviously values two-way players highly, so don’t think he won’t try to get everything he can out of the defensively savvy youngster.

Looking back and ahead: Daniel Paille

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

With the Bruins’ season in the books, WEEI.com will take a look at each player on the roster one-by-one to provide some perspective on what went wrong this season and what the future holds for the 2011 champions.

Daniel Paille played 69 games for the Bruins in 2011-12. (AP)

Daniel Paille

Age: 28

2011-12 stats: 69 games played, 9 goals, 6 assists, 15 points, minus-5

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent ($1.075 million cap hit in 2011-12)

Looking back: While the retirement of Mark Recchi and the free agent defection of Michael Ryder left some uncertainty as to how Boston’s top three lines would look entering the season, it seemed a certainty entering camp that Claude Julien would not touch the fourth line of Paille, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton. That was indeed the case, and Julien kept the “Merlot Line,” as Thornton has long called it for the maroon practice sweaters of fourth-line players, intact.

Though the line (at least the incarnation with Paille rather than Brad Marchand) did not see its offensive success of the previous season, the trio of Paille, Campbell and Thornton continued to bring what’s required of it: energy and prolonged stays in the offensive zone.

For the most part, the former Sabres first-round pick had horrible luck this season. He was hit in the face by a Steve Staios slapshot to the face on Nov. 7. He also suffered a mild concussion on Dec. 8 and dealt with an arm injury in early March. He also found himself as the odd man out when Jordan Caron‘s torrid play down the stretch left him in the press box for four games in late March. Despite the numerous injuries and healthy scratches, Paille missed only 13 games over the course of the regular season.

It wasn’t his best statistical campaign (he still hasn’t repeated his 19-goal performance of 2007-08 with the Sabres), but it was a season in which Paille proved to be a bit of an iron man for Boston due to his ability to get back into the lineup quickly after injuries. If such goofy statistics were kept, it wouldn’t be surprising if Paille led the league in shorthanded scoring opportunities. As has long been the case with Paille, his finishing skills often let him down, but his ability to do everything but score makes him perfectly suitable as a fourth-liner and penalty killer.

Paille actually did not take a penalty in the first half of the season. In fact, his first trip to the box of the season was a fighting major that came on Jan. 16 against Ed Jovanovski, the second second fighting major of the 28-year-old’s career. He finished the regular season with 15 penalty minutes.

Looking ahead: When it comes to the Bruins’ priorities with their free agents this summer, Paille is certainly no Chris Kelly, but he’s still someone who has carved out a niche in Boston and would be a good guy to have back.

Paille is one of five Bruins forwards who are free agents (the others are Kelly, Campbell, Brian Rolston and the restricted Benoit Pouliot), so Boston’s offense could look pretty different next season. If Paille isn’t brought back, it could open up a full-time job for Caron or provide an opportunity for a youngster like Jared Knight. If Rolston retires (which he has yet to decide), a spot for Caron might be there anyway.

The 28-year-old Paille is also a great character guy who is a good presence in the Bruins’ dressing room. After spending the previous season seeing significant time as a healthy scratch, it seemed he had earned himself a full-time job in the Boston lineup this season, but he didn’t feel entitled or pout when Julien had to scratch him in favor of Caron late in the regular season. Of course, if Paille does re-sign with the Bruins, he’ll probably do so in hopes of being in the lineup every night.

Paille might never end up justifying his first-round selection (20th overall back in 2002), but he serves his role as a fourth-liner very well in Boston. Perhaps there there will be opportunities in free agency for the Ontario native to play more and on a higher line, but the Bruins would be smart to do what they can to retain his services.

Looking back and ahead: Chris Kelly

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

With the Bruins’ season in the books, WEEI.com will take a look at each player on the roster one-by-one to provide some perspective on what went wrong this season and what the future holds for the 2011 champions.

Chris Kelly had a career year this season with the Bruins. (AP)

Chris Kelly

Age: 31

2011-12 stats: 82 games played, 20 goals (career high), 19 assists, 39 points (career-high), plus-33 (career-high)

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent ($2.125 million cap hit in 2011-12)

Looking back: Kelly entered the season coming off a playoff run in which he served as just one of the reasons as to why the Bruins had the depth to win the Stanley Cup (13 points in 25 games as the third-line center). The pace at which he put up points in the 2010-11 postseason was something he had never been able to maintain in the regular season, but he didn’t slow down a bit as the 2011-12 season began.

Kelly’s previous career-high for points in the regular season was 38, which he set back in 2006-07 as a member of the Senators. He surpassed that by one point this season, but the most notable number from his performance was that he reached the 20-goal plateau for the first time in his career. It was a good time to do so, as the the 31-year-old’s career year happened to come in the final season of his contract.

While he was never extended and is set to be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, the Bruins made clear how much they valued the center before the season started by having him share the ‘A’ formerly worn by Mark Recchi with Andrew Ference. That’s quite the destination for someone playing a veteran team given that this season was Kelly’s first full campaign as a member of the B’s after being acquired the previous February.

While Kelly spent the vast majority of the season serving as the team’s third line center (usually with the likes of Benoit Pouliot, Rich Peverley, Jordan Caron and Brian Rolston as his wings), his improved offensive production gave the Bruins flexibility when injures struck Claude Julien simply felt shakeups among the lines were in order. Kelly saw even saw some time as the team’s first line center (something that occurred as early as October 20). He also continued to play a major role on special teams, tying for the team lead with two shorthanded goals.

Looking ahead: The Bruins have a lot of other free agent forwards (Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell, Brian Rolston and the restricted Pouliot among them), but there’s no doubt that Kelly’s situation will have the biggest impact on Boston’s offense this offseason.

While seeing Kelly score 20 goals for the first time in his career is an encouraging sign, it made things very tricky for the Bruins, as the 20-goal-scorer label undoubtedly jacked up his price. Now, the Bruins have to decide whether they think they’ll be getting a consistent scorer out of Kelly before paying him like one.

Boston gave Peverley a three-year, $9.75 million contract extension during the regular season. It’s hard to say exactly what Kelly is seeking, but a contract with a salary cap hit similar to Peverley’s ($3.25 million annually), would seem to be a fair number for the veteran center. That would also be a $1 million raise from what he was getting, and with big contracts potentially upcoming for Tuukka Rask (restricted free agent this summer), Tyler Seguin, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand (all restricted at the end of next season), the B’s will need to be careful to not overspend. Still, with plenty of cap space this offseason, they will be able to afford Kelly with ease as long as they don’t plan on going after one of the big-name free agents such as Zach Parise or Ryan Suter, both of which would seem highly unlikely to happen.

For Kelly and the B’s, it’s just a matter of whether the sides will agree, and the guess here is that the B’s wouldn’t let Kelly go without a fight. Factor in that Kelly likes it here, and it seems the only thing that could prevent the sides from coming together is dollars and cents.

Looking back and ahead: Benoit Pouliot

Friday, May 11th, 2012

With the Bruins’ season in the books, WEEI.com will take a look at each player on the roster one-by-one to provide some perspective on what went wrong this season and what the future holds for the 2011 champions.

Benoit Pouliot set a career high in points in his first season as a Bruin. (AP)

Benoit Pouliot

Age: 25

2011-12 stats: 74 games played, 16 goals, 16 assists, 32 points (career-high), plus-18 (career-high)

Contract status: Restricted free agent ($1.1 million cap hit in 2011-12)

Looking back: Pouliot was a healthy scratch for the season-opener against the Flyers, and though he got into the lineup for the second game of the season, he was as quiet as any of the struggling Bruins in the month of October. He finished his first month as a Bruin with zero points and a minus-3 rating.

The former fourth overall pick certainly had some growing pains as he got into the swing of things with Boston. His propensity to take bad penalties in the offensive zone reared its ugly head, but Pouliot started producing as his line with Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly began to click. He scored seven goals over November and December, four of which were game-winners. It didn’t qualify as a game-winning goal, but Pouliot also gave the Bruins a victory with the deciding goal in a Nov. 23 shootout against the Sabres.

Pouliot totaled only 16 goals with the Bruins, but plenty of them were highlight-reel quality. Take this Dec. 23 goal, for example. After the Nathan Horton concussion and the trade deadline, Pouliot ended up developing a nice rapport on the slightly altered third line with Kelly and Brian Rolston.

Like the rest of the Bruins’ offense, Pouliot was quiet in the team’s seven-game quarterfinals series against the Capitals. He totaled a goal and an assist — which actually tied his career total for playoff points in 22 previous postseason games — but also took third-period penalties in Games 5 and 6, both of which were tied. The Capitals scored the game-winning goal on the power play that followed his slashing penalty with 2:50 left in Game 5.

Looking ahead: For the second straight year, Pouliot is set to become a restricted free agent. While the Canadiens decided to non-tender him after the 2010-11 season, the Bruins will have a much tougher choice to make.

If the B’s can get him back at a similar price (or even somewhere around $2 million for a year), they would be wise to do so. They probably wouldn’t go much higher than that, as the only reason they signed Pouliot in the first place was because they were unwilling to pay the vastly superior Michael Ryder.

The B’s have a lot of free agent forwards (Kelly, Daniel Paille, Rolston, Gregory Campbell), a question mark with one of their top wingers (Horton), and no youngsters guaranteed to seize a job in training camp (Ryan Spooner and Jared Knight would be the best contenders). Jordan Caron should be given a full-time job on the team next season, but if Pouliot can be had for relatively low money, he’s a body worth keeping around for both the depth chart’s sake and the off-chance that he can one day get more out of his obvious talent.

Pouliot said prior to the season that he wants to return to the Bruins. He’s had some rough stops in his NHL career (a bust in Minnesota, and a frequent occupant of Jacques Martin‘s doghouse in Montreal), and he feels he’s finally found something good in Boston. Whether or not the Bruins decide to keep him around will reflect whether the feeling is mutual.

Looking back and ahead: Tyler Seguin

Friday, May 11th, 2012

With the Bruins’ season in the books, WEEI.com will take a look at each player on the roster one-by-one to provide some perspective on what went wrong this season and what the future holds for the 2011 champions.

Tyler Seguin led the Bruins in points in the regular season. (AP)

Tyler Seguin

Age: 20

2011-12 stats: 81 games played, 29 goals (career-high), 38 assists (career-high), 67 points (career-high), plus-34 (career-high)

Contract status: Signed through 2012-13 season ($3.55 million cap hit), restricted free agent after next season

Looking back: After serving as a bottom-six forward and occasional healthy scratch as a rookie, the second overall pick in the 2010 draft entered the 2011-12 season as a third-liner, but it was clear that he would be given more opportunities in his sophomore campaign.

Both production and opportunity would come early on for Seguin, as he racked up three assists over the first two games and was eventually bumped up to the top line when David Krejci missed three games in October with a lower-body injury. He found some good chemistry with Milan Lucic while playing on that line, and he eventually found a full-time job as Patrice Bergeron‘s right wing on the second line with Brad Marchand.

The combination of added experience and an opportunity to play on both Bergeron’s line and the power play paid huge dividends for Seguin and the Bruins. He more than tripled his total of 22 points from his rookie year and led the Bruins in both goals and points. He averaged 16:56 of ice time in the regular season after averaging 12:13 as a rookie.

Seguin showed in his second year that he still isn’t as willing to go into the corners and take contact as some of his more physical teammates, and while that may be frustrating to watch, physicality has never been part of what Seguin offers. To his credit, he was at his toughest when it mattered most after a very quiet start to the playoffs, as he lunged toward three Washington bodies in the second period of Game 7 against the Capitals to tie the game at one goal apiece. It was one of two goals he scored in the first round, with the other one coming in the form of a game-winning goal in overtime of Game 6 to force the series’ final game.

It wouldn’t be a proper evaluation of Seguin’s sophomore campaign if Winnipeg wasn’t mentioned, as Seguin was scratched for missing a team breakfast and meeting the day of the Bruins’ Dec. 6 loss to the Jets. The story was beaten to death — he used the time zone excuse without realizing the time zone excuse couldn’t apply to the situation, Claude Julien announced to the media that it wasn’t a story, etc. — but it was a major story for good reason. It all served as a reminder that Seguin is still maturing both on and off the ice.

Looking ahead: As far as production goes, the sky is the limit for Seguin. He’ll continue to be a top-six forward for the Bruins and a major part of the team’s attempt to ice an improved power play going forward. He’ll still be just 20 years of age at the start of next season, and the expectation should be for him to put up nothing less than a 30-goal season after knocking on the door in his second campaign.

The biggest question with Seguin regards which position he will play. He played center in the Ontario Hockey League and his play as a pivot earned him comparisons to Steve Yzerman. He was drafted as a center, but since coming to the Bruins has played primarily as a right wing.

Because of Seguin’s shortcomings in the defensive zone, he benefits from skating on a line with Bergeron, so will the B’s keep him as a winger on Bergeron’s line or enter next season with a plan to make him a full-time center? Depending on where things stand with Nathan Horton, Seguin could also skate on Krejci’s line as a winger, as he did for a stretch late in the regular season and in the final games of the first round.

Eventually, the Bruins would probably have to hope that Seguin could develop into the team’s first-line center. Whether that will happen in the youngster’s third season remains to be seen.

Looking back and ahead: Patrice Bergeron

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

With the Bruins’ season in the books, WEEI.com will take a look at each player on the roster one-by-one to provide some perspective on what went wrong this season and what the future holds for the 2011 champions.

Patrice Bergeron's oblique injury hurt the B's in the first round. (AP)

Patrice Bergeron

Age: 26

2011-12 stats: 81 games played, 22 goals, 42 assists, 64 points, plus-36 (career-high, led NHL)

Contract status: Signed through 2013-14 ($5 million cap hit)

Looking back: Bergeron was healthy as a horse in the regular season for the B’s, as the only game he missed came when Claude Julien gave him the day off against the Senators in the team’s second to last game of the season.

It was the playoffs, of course, when Bergeron being injured really hurt the Bruins. Bergeron tore his oblique in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Capitals. The injury forced him out of Game 5 in the third period and prevented him from taking faceoffs in the last two games of the series, as he took only two draws. That was quite the loss for the B’s, as Bergeron’s 973 faceoff wins led the league in the regular season (his 59.3 percent success rate was second in the NHL).

The regular season earned Bergeron a Selke nomination for the first time in his career, and he figures to be the favorite to take the trophy home come June. The other two finalists for the award were St. Louis’ David Backes and Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk, the latter of whom has won it in three of the last four seasons.

In addition to his smarts in all three zones and an impressive plus-minus of his own, the fact that Tyler Seguin — an immensely talented scorer whose play in his own zone is still very much a work in progress — had a plus-34 skating on his line speaks volumes for Bergeron.

Looking ahead: The Selke figures to be in Bergeron’s immediate future, as the fact that he’d yet to be a finalist had been somewhat of an injustice throughout the league. The members of the Pro Hockey Writers Association finally got on the same page after Bergeron’s plus-36, so Bergeron should end up cracking the exclusive fraternity of Selke winners (three winners the last six seasons).

As for what to expect from Bergeron in the future, a lot of that might depend on what happens with Seguin. If the B’s elect to keep him at wing and continue to play him on Bergeron’s line, that should mean a spike in numbers for that entire line as Seguin matures and becomes even more offensively dangerous.

Should Seguin stick at wing on Bergeron’s line for at least another season, it would seem Bergeron would be plenty capable of getting back to 70 points, something his did in his second and third seasons (including a career-high 73 points in 2005-06) but has not done since.

Of course, the Bruins expect more than points from Bergeron. His ability to shut down opposing teams’ top lines in addition to producing offensively and dominating in the faceoff circle while also being an important special teams player is what makes him far and away the Bruins’ most important forward.

Looking back and ahead: Brad Marchand

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

With the Bruins’ season in the books, WEEI.com will take a look at each player on the roster one-by-one to provide some perspective on what went wrong this season and what the future holds for the 2011 champions.

Brad Marchand scored 28 goals in 2011-12. (AP)

Brad Marchand

Age: 23

2011-12 stats: 76 games played, 28 goals (career-high), 27 assists (career-high), 55 points (career-high), plus-31 (career-high)

Contract status: Signed through 2012-13 ($2.5 million cap hit), restricted free agent following 2012-13 season

Looking back: After being the recipient of the Seventh Player Award in his rookie season, Marchand used his sophomore campaign to show that his impressive 2011-12 performance (21 goals, 20 assists) wasn’t an overachievement.

The 2006 third-round pick played nearly the entire season as Patrice Bergeron‘s left wing, with Tyler Seguin often the right wing. He surpassed his rookie totals in every statistic but shorthanded goals (he had one compared to his five a season ago) and continued to be an asset on both the power play and penalty kill.

Marchand solidified his reputation as a pest this season, but he also continued down the road of being one of the Bruins’ dirtier players. He was fined $2,500 by the league for slew-footing Matt Niskanen on Dec. 15, and given a five-game suspension for his low-bridge hit on Sami Salo on Jan. 7. Marchand has now been suspended twice in his two full NHL seasons and carries with him the “repeat-offender” tag with each sticky situation in which he finds himself.

As was the case with essentially every top-six forward except for Rich Peverley and perhaps Seguin, Marchand was most part very quiet in the Bruins’ seven-game stint in the playoffs against the Capitals. Marchand’s lone game of note came in the form of a two-point performance in Game 5, but his goal and assist in that loss ended up being his only two points of the series.

Looking ahead: Marchand didn’t have big expectations on him as a rookie, and after getting a two-year, $5 million deal entering this past season, he proved to be more than worth the money by nearly putting up a 30-goal season. Now, as he enters the final year of his deal, what is the 23-year-old’s ceiling?

It’s a good question, because the expectation here wasn’t that he would repeat his 21-goal performance from 2010-11 when he finally signed his contract in September after a lengthy offseason of negotiating. So, is the expectation that Marchand can go out each season and put up between 25 and 30 goals? If so, his price tag after this deal expires might cause them to make a choice on some players (Marchand, Seguin, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton all have their deals expire after next season). Keep in mind that Marchand will be a restricted free agent, so he isn’t a major flight risk unless he pulls a Phil Kessel, which wouldn’t seem likely.

In addition to being an ideal “Bruin” by playing well in all three zones, the pesky winger has been able to exceed offensive expectations in each of his two full seasons in the NHL. He’s remained healthy, and it seems the only thing that can stop him is his tendency to cross the line.