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Andy Brickley on M&M: Contraction good for NHL, but ‘I can’t see it happening’

NESN Bruins analyst Andy Brickley joined Mut & Merloni on Tuesday to talk about the proposed NHL [1] realignment, how it could be complicated by team relocations, and Tuukka Rask [2]‘s contract status as he continues to put together a strong year.

“I like that you play every team in the league home and home,” Brickley said of the realignment plan. “I like that you play down out of your division once you get into the postseason. I think that’s truly what builds rivalries, which is what they’re looking for. That was certainly the case back in the day, when you had to get out of your division before you could advance deeper into the postseason. I like that. And I think the divisions the way they’re created are going to cut down on travel, wear and tear, the time zone travel, and that’s all good.

“What I don’t like is the unevenness of the number of teams in the division, and the uneven number of games played against opponents in your own division. And does the number of teams in your division negatively affect your team’s chances of making the postseason? Those are my concerns. And then looking forward, are we looking at this formula because we’re preparing for two more teams, to prepare for two more cities? And what happens to realignment if a Western Conference team has to relocate to Quebec City and we’re just going to do the whole exercise all over again?”

Brickley said attendance at the Bruins’ recent games on Long Island and in Florida was sparse, but that the league is far more likely to relocate those teams, or the league-owned Coyotes, than to contract the number of teams in the league.

“Those things will never happen,” he said. “They will never take backward steps in that direction. I certainly can’t see it. There’s too much money at stake. ‘€¦ There’s too much strength in the union to allow that number of loss of jobs. I don’t see it, although it might be good for the game in the long run, but I can’t see it happening.”

Following are more highlights from the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page [3].

On the goalies splitting time and Rask’s play: “I don’t think you can be that specific, 30-18 [games for Rask and Anton Khudobin]. The believability was probably 30-35 [for Rask]. If it’s over 35, then that’s a pretty strong workload out of a 48-game schedule. I think coming into Long Island, those that thought maybe Khudobin would play, understandable that that would be part of the discussion. But a young player, Khudobin, a trip to Florida, how you spend your off time –I think that was part of the decision-making, which goaltender would give the best opportunity to win. Rask has been around a little while longer, a little more schooled, a little more veteran savvy to be ready to play, perhaps, knowing the team would have some fatigue level and still to secure two more points that were very gettable. Although it’s a team on the rise, still an inferior team to what the Bruins have to put on the ice. So I clearly could see Claude [Julien]’s decision to go to Tuukka ‘€¦ I still think it’s going to be in that range, 30-35 for Rask.”

On Rask’s play leading to a contract extension: “That contract extension was coming because you knew Tuukka was going to have a good year. The system is his friend, there’s familiarity with this team and its system and knowing where the shots are coming from. The confidence level that he has in his own abilities and his skill set — that’s why he signed a one-year deal. He knew that the ducks would be in a row at the end of this season and he was willing to roll the dice to some degree, but he was ultra-confident that this was the way the season was going to go. I think Tuukka expects it to get done, I think his agent expects it to get done, and the Bruins, I believe, are pretty sure they’re going to get a deal done with Tuukka, probably before the end of the year.”

On where Tyler Seguin [4] has improved: “Play away from the puck, and then in the puck battles, good defensive decisions — his effort’s there. He has the skill to then beat people, and the way he won that puck battle in the corner to set up [AdamMcQuaid was classic Seguin. He’s not going to overpower anybody, so it becomes the skill, the quickness, the guile, and then to get separation by using his speed, and that’s all on display. But that’s what they’re looking for him to do more of. And isn’t it funny — he’s in a scoring streak now. It’s not a huge one, but it’s a consistent one, and he’s putting some numbers on the board. That’s because that compete level has been raised.”

On the bottom two lines: “[RichPeverley‘s getting a ton of scoring chances. He’s just not finishing right now. I think [ChrisKelly‘s game is improving. I think that power-play goal in Florida is going to go a long way toward having him feel better. But he’s just a smart guy, who’s now just trying to get his conditioning, his timing and his feel for the game, He still gets by and he’s still a contributor because he’s so smart, but he needs to be more of a player than he’s been to this point, and he’s well aware of that.

“The fourth line has more to give. They can be more dominant at times – they were in 2011 when they won the Cup. Boston plays that hard backchecking, back-pressure game, and that’s one of the main reasons that they roll four lines, so they can keep that tempo on the backcheck where it is. ‘€¦ That is something probably that if it does not improve to a certain level that they’re looking for, maybe you’ll see changes, maybe from outside of the organization.”

On a lack of scoring in the game overall: “I don’t think the game’s broke. I think we made a number of changes –we being the league, the sport — seven years ago. There was an economic need that needed to be addressed and that’s when the salary cap came in, and along with that a whole bunch of rules changes designed to open up the game, increase scoring, make it more attractive. And I think it lived up to that.

“I don’t think they’re looking at drastic changes to create 7-6 games. That’s certainly not what I’m looking for. ‘€¦ I’m not willing to go to the drastic measures that Kevin Paul [Dupont] was talking about, along with Mike Milbury. Mine’s very basic. It’s just a reduced size of the goaltender’s equipment. Streamline it, and I think you’ll have an opportunity to see more net. I think the goalies will still be safe and there’ll be added offensive production. If you want to run the idea of a full two-minute power play no matter how many goals you score by me, I’d be willing to listen to that. But I still think you should be able to ice the puck if you’re shorthanded. But I don’t think it needs anything drastic. I’m a fan of the game the way it is.”