|NHL Conference Call with Savard (and what he said to Laraque Saturday night)||11.24.08 at 4:24 pm ET|
Bruins center Marc Savard had an NHL-sponsored conference call with assorted media members after being named last week’s First Start in the NHL Three Stars competition. Here’s a partial transcript from this afternoon’s call with reporters, including some interesting thoughts on the Laraque/Lucic confrontation last weekend and the punch-filled turning point for this season’s team. I skipped a few probing questions for Savard about John Tavares and the Oshawa Generals, but let’s just say that he thinks the youngster is a player and doesn’t mind that he’ll break his junior scoring records with the Generals. So now you can sleep knowing that. Here’s Savard:
From a plus/minus standpoint you’re having the best year of your career. What have you done to improve that? MS: Well, I don’t know. I’ve just been building every year since Coach Hartley helped me out in Atlanta. Then I came here and I’ve learned a lot from Claude. So things have helped in that way, and then obviously playing in our system makes it a lot easier to be a better plus player than I’ve been in the past.
It’s right there and [Claude] tells us exactly what to do and it’s right there in front of us. You trust in your teammates and they do their job and it makes it a lot easier. It’s that and a lot of little things. Being down low and what exactly do you do when you’re down there and being better away from the puck has really helped me too.
Do you feel you’re a more complete player this year? MS:Yeah, I do. I’m killing penalties this year. It’s the first year in the NHL that I’ve done that and I’m taking a lot of big faceoffs. It’s nice to be counted on like that, it feels good and hopefully we keep on playing like that.
The Boston Bruins success has raised a lot of eyebrows around the league. What are you doing to keep playing this well? MS: We’re just playing together, you know, and we really get along so well. I know a lot of teams say that, but we really do. If something needs to be said, well then we air it out in the room and we go from there.
When Dallas came in here, I think I really look at that as our turning point for the season. We started off with a .500 schedule through our first six games, and Dallas came in here and we had a big game against them. We just grew from there, and we’ve just been on a pretty good roll since then.
If Dallas was the turning point, then what did the two recent wins against Montreal do? MS:Yeah, obviously it’s a huge rivalry. We’re not the biggest fans of the Canadiens, and I’m sure they’re not the biggest fans of us, so it’s nice to be able to finally get some wins against them. I think we’re just building off it and rolling over, and we’re just a confident team right now. We know that we have to work hard to get our victories.
Can you talk about how much instant impact Lucic has had with Boston. MS: Well, I knew from Day One of training camp last year when I went right to our GM and said that this guy is ready. I knew with his size and stuff. I played with him in one exhibition game early on, and I think it was against the Islanders in Halifax or New Brunswick or something. I knew right then that he was ready to play. He has more skill than everybody gives him credit for, and I can see that when he makes good little plays.
We’ve been working well together, so hopefully if he continues to do that then he’s going to have a great career. After the playoffs when he was a huge presence for us in the playoffs, I think he’s just rolled that over into this year. Playing on my wing, I can take advantage of it and chip it into the corner knowing that he’s going for it. There’s not too many guy that are going to be the first one back there when he’s going. He’s a great addition, and we have a good mix on the line. So it’s nice to have him on the line.
Julien has been active in moving players around. Can you talk about the defensive awareness that you and Phil have? MS: Playing with Phil and Milan, they’re both younger guys — and for myself too — for us to be out there and get the minutes that we want to get we try and stress to each other to be good defensively. If we’re good defensively then we’re going to get a lot of offense. Really it feels like we haven’t been in our zone that much for that reason. We’ve been getting back hard, breaking up plays and getting it back in. We’re having a lot of fun as a line.
Like you said, Kess has really worked hard at that aspect so he can be out there in those situations. As he gets older he’s obviously going to be a top guy at both ends [of the ice].
PJ Axelsson has also been moved up to the top lines a few times, so you have Axelsson and Phil playing in different roles and winning games. Julien seems to be asking a lot of everybody [on the team]. MS: Yeah, he is. He’s a demanding coach, but in the same sense he’s fair. If you’re playing hard and you’re playing good, then you’re going to get that ice time. We’ve been getting that as a line, and obviously our team has been playing great as a whole lineup. If someone isn’t going one night, then somebody else picks them up. It’s been good in that way.
We know what we have to do to win: we have to keep working and Claude keeps stressing that every day. There’s not too many days where he lets that stuff slide. We know as a team what we have to do to win, and we’ve been able to do it.
One of the subplots of last weekend’s game was staying clear of Laraque. 1) Was that talked about and 2) there was a faceoff where Georges and Lucic were squaring off in the faceoff circle and they were yakking it up a little. You seemed to come over and have something to say and things calmed down a little bit. What happened there? MS: I just told Georges that there’s going to be another time for this. Right now we’re worried about wins. Milan Lucic is a hockey player and not just a fighter, so that’s basically what I said. It kept him quiet for a little bit anyway.
If they wanted to put Georges out there that much then it was fine with us. We didn’t want anybody fighting, especially because we’re obviously a little short on the defensive corps with Andrew Ference out. People are saying ‘well, why didn’t [Chara] grab him’. There’ll be time for that. I’m not saying we’re going to do it, but right now it wasn’t the time. Especially playing up there when we were on the road. If they got hot on the power play, which they’re capable of doing, we didn’t want that to happen either. We played it the way we wanted to play it, and there was nothing else about it.
Would you like to be considered for the Canadian Olympic team, and do you take a lot of pride in your passing ability? MS: Yeah, that would be a huge honor for me. It’s something that I obviously don’t go into every game thinking about, but it would be nice to work for that. Right now I’m worrying about the Boston Bruins, but it would be a huge to wear the jersey of my country. You see a lot of big players on that list, and it would be nice to be mentioned with them.
On the passing side, I’ve always been a passer first. I tried to get away from that to open up more things and try to get more shots on goal this year, and I think I’ve done that. It’s obviously worked out well. It’s nice to get some recognition on that, and hopefully I can keep setting up my wingers for some nice goals.
Do you think the Bruins won’t be able to fly under the radar anymore this season? MS:Now, for sure we know that teams are going to be coming for us and we need to be ready every night. Claude keeps us pretty honest in that we have to ready to go every night. The best thing about our hockey club, though, is that we’re obviously a confident group right now…but we also know what we have to do to win games, and that’s work hard and stay with our system. Play at both ends of the ice, and we’ve obviously been able to do that and get great goaltending and we’re getting different guys stepping up every night. We’re getting a good mix right now, but like you said we’re only 20 games in so we’re obviously not getting too high and we’re trying to keep an even keel. Things are going well.
Can you talk a little about how important Tim Thomas has been this year? MS: Tim has been huge. He’s been a great goaltender and he hasn’t got a lot of credit over his career, but he’s having a great year this year. It’s nice to have a goalie back there that’s going to make the big save for you, and he’s done that this year. Obviously with Manny back there it pushes Tim even a bit more because when when Manny has gone in there he’s played well too. So we have a great one-two punch going on right now, and hopefully they can keep playing the way they have for the whole season.
I thought that moment with Laraque and Lucic from Saturday night’s game was a pretty good example of veteran leadership. Have you always been that kind of leader at each stop in your NHL career, or is that something that’s blossomed in Boston? MS: I think throughout the years, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more of a leader and I’ve learned a lot through my career. Obviously in my career there’s been some tough times, and you only get stronger from that. We get along so well in the dressing room and we have so many young and me being an older guy I’m able to help those kids out a little bit.
Playing with two kids — Kessel and Lucic — I’m always talking to them between shifts, and I always want more and I want them to always want more too. I think they’re proving that this year. [Being a leader] isn’t always about just saying something, it’s about going out and doing it too. So hopefully I’m able to do that stuff. I do talk a lot and I like to have a lot of fun before the game and keep guys loose, but — in the same sense — when the puck drops I think it’s time to get serious and get things going. Those of the types of things I want to bring and hopefully I’m able to do that.
What have your impression been so far of Blake Wheeler? MS:Blake’s a skilled hockey player and he’s a big boy, so he’s got a lot of things going for him. He skates well. He’s really come in here and looked like a veteran out there and he’s played really well. Coach is giving him an opportunity to play a lot a lot, and his line is playing really with Krejci and Kobasew right now too. They bring a lot to the hockey team, and Wheeler seems to keep getting better every day.
He’s been a big part of our success at the shootout lately too. He shoots first and I think in his three shootouts he’s scored twice. He keeps growing and he has one of his best buddies in Kessell here too, so that’s helped him out with the adjustment. The sky is the limit for him.
When you look at the size, is he as physical as you expected him to be? MS: When you’ve got a big guy there you obviously expect a guy to finish his checks — or when you’re any size you expect them to finish checks — but when you’ve got that kind of size and that kind of gift you hope that he uses it. And he uses it well and he uses it to his advantage. He gets to the net hard and with that big body he’s able to get some goals.
Was there a moment last year when you realized this was a team that was really together? MS:I think it started last year when Bergie went down, we came together closer and you knew each guy had to step up. And then when it came to the end of the year really had to battle to make it into the playoffs, and from then on in we had a seven game series against Montreal. We were able to battle back the way we did and really have the same team come back besides a couple of guys and then add three players.
From there we’ve really taken off and in the room — whether we’re on the road — we really get along so great and I know a lot of teams say that but it’s the truth here. We hang out all the time. Even yesterday we had a little team get together and it’s like a family here. Every sticks up for each other. But that Dallas game this year brought us even closer together this year and we really stick up for each other. It was one of our first big games at home this year and it really brought us together.
Did this start change expectations in the room? MS: Yes and no. I think at the beginning of the year we thought that we had a great team, and it was just a matter of when it all came together. It obviously came together pretty fast. Off that Montreal series we knew that we really grew as a team and we saw what kind of damage we could do if we played together, worked hard and just stayed within the system. We’ve done that and now we’re a confident group, but at the end of the day we know what wins us hockey games. That’s working hard, and coach keeps us honest in that regard and helps us do it.
Somebody told me that today’s players really like playing in a system. How important is that in Boston? MS: It makes it easier because you know that the system is there to protect you, and if you get away from it then you’re going to get into trouble. I think we know that as a team. We probably don’t have the most skilled team in the NHL, but if we stick with what we’re taught we’re able to win games through hard work. We do have skill players and it’s proven every night because we have guys stepping up. We’re a confident team right now, but we know that we have to work hard.
You’ve put up some pretty impressive numbers since the end of the lockout. What do you attribute that to? MS: I don’t know. I think I’m focused and going into games I want to help the team offensively and I want to produce every night. I think I’ve been hungry to do that. I think that’s why I’ve been able to stay so consistently since the lockout. Obviously I’ve gotten a great opportunity to play in the division that I’ve been in, and things have worked out.
Are you upset because Lucic is a big guy that other guys want to fight him? You’ve got guys like Georges that want to fight him simply because he’s a big guy. MS: On the Lucic stuff, I think he’s going to get challenged a lot because I think his record is pretty flawless in the fighting department, and people not only want to fight but get him off the ice because he’s such a factor in most hockey games and he’s only getting better every day. I like having him out there obviously, and when he goes in the box if shifts up our lines and stuff like that. So it makes it a little tougher.
Myself coming into the league I had a lot of growing pains to go through. Coming into the league I played with the Rangers and we had a lot of stars and obviously it was hard for me to make a name there. I went to Calgary and got a great opportunity to play. When I moved on to Atlanta that’s where things started to get a lot better. Obviously Coach Hartley really helped me out and I owe him a lot to him — especially in the early stages — because he basically told me there’s the ball right there and if you want to take it then just go. He gave me a lot of ice time and I was able to succeed there before I moved on to Boston, where I’m happy and I hope that i can finish out my career here and keep getting better.
|Julien ordered Lucic to keep the gloves on||11.22.08 at 9:06 pm ET|
MONTREAL, QUEBEC — Bruins coach Claude Julien, who continued his march toward the Jack Adams Trophy by coaching the pants off Habs coach Guy Carbonneau in a big statement game last night, seemed fairly agitated after a tense, playoff-like game that ended with a thrilling 3-2 shootout win over the Montreal Canadiens. Julien admitted that he (rightly) told Milan Lucic not to drop the gloves and go berserk when enforcer Georges Laraque came calling for a throwdown. Instead, Big, Bad Looch got the last laugh with a game-tying second period goal which he immediately followed with a little post-score posing, primping and styling for the angry masses in Montreal.
While Julien’s hockey Gandhi move undoubtedly had something to do with the current state of Lucic’s hand after pummeling Nick Boynton in Friday night’s win, the B’s head coach also seemed to take some exception with Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau’s calculated decision to send his noted enforcer after Boston’s 20-year-old, second-year winger.
“He’s probably the toughest guy in the league, and I know Georges Laraque was [goading Lucic] because he was told to. Georges is not that type of guy and he respects the young kids and knows what that is all about. There was no way that was going to happen. [Shawn] Thornton was there ready for Georges and that never happened either. My tough guy was ready for their tough guy and it’s as simple as that. I told [Lucic] not to fight, and if you were wondering…it was me.
“I don’t send guys to fight. When guys go out and fight they do it on their own. That’s all I’m going to say. I know for a fact that [going after Lucic] was said and [Laraque] had a job to do tonight. He was to shadow Lucic and that was his job. It’s as simple as that. For us I think Lucic is a good player and if they want Georges to shadow him then that means more ice time for Georges and good for him.”
Lucic clearly seemed a bit non-plussed to be answering questions about why he refused to drop the gloves with Laraque after the big Canadiens winger skated nearly side-by-side with the Incredible Looch on four different shifts in the first period. It seemed as if the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Laraque was doing everything possible to entice the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Lucic into a fists of furty competition. Looch does lead the B’s with 48 penalty minutes on the season, but he wasn’t biting this time.
Thornton is pretty familiar with the job requirements for a tough guy/enforcer, and he empathized a bit with the plight of Lucic, who obviously didn’t want to be seen as backing away from a physical confrontation with Laraque.
“I’m sure it’s[difficult],” said Thornton. “He did a good job of staying disciplined. He did his job. [Lucic] got a goal and we got two points out of it. I think that’s the most important thing that we got the two points.
Did Thornton expect that Laraque was going to make himself Looch’s Siamese Twin out on the ice for nearly the entire first period, and practically big for a fight?
“I don’t know. I thought we did a good job and [Lucic/Komisarek] was a good fight and that was the end of it. Obviously they didn’t feel the same way, but whatever. If the guys wants to do that then it’s his barn and he can do whatever he wants. But Lucic did a good job staying disciplined and helping us get the two points.”
Each time Lucic headed to the bench following his shift, the Bell Centre crowd let him have it with hoots, hollers and chants of “Luc-cic”. The Carbonneau move seemed to be devised to quiet the spirited, physical Looch in a must-win game for the Habs, but instead Lucic finished with revenge on a hockey dish served cold: a goal and nine hits in 15:10 of ice time. Carbonneau’s game plan of intimidation and frontier justice might be considered trash barrel material the next time the two Old Time Hockey rivals tangle.
Here’s a word-for-word transcription of the terse Lucic interview with the assorted Canadian and Boston media after the game:
What happened with Laraque? ML: Nothing.
What did he say? ML: Nothing.
Is that the first time in your life that somebody shadowed you like that? ML: Yeah.
How does it feel? ML: Okay. If that’s what they want to do then they can do it.
Did Claude tell you not to fight:? You’re a first line player and he isn’t so it’s a bad match-up. ML: I don’t know. You’ll have to ask him.
Did he also tell you not to talk about it? ML: No, I just don’t feel like talking about it. That’s about all I have to say.
When you scored you seemed to ham it up a little bit there. ML: Yeah, a little bit. It’s nice to score when the fans are on you a little bit there.
Do you enjoy when the crowd gets on you like that? Is that a fun environment for you to play in? ML: Yeah, it’s fun if they’re on you like that or they’re not on you like that. It’s a fun building to play in. 21,000 people in the crowd and they’re always whooping it up. It’s a tough building to play in, and we’re just happy to get the two points.
I guess this guy is seething in his Patrick Roy Canadiens sweater after Lucic and Laraque didn’t rumble at the Bell Centre, or perhaps Carbonneau dreamed this up and showed it to the Habs skaters before Saturday night’s game:
|Wheeler pulls the bra trick||11.10.08 at 3:55 pm ET|
Great little tidbit in SI.com hockey writer Michael Farber’s column this week about some of the wackier details from Blake Wheeler’s breakout hat trick against the Toronto Maple Leafs last week. It’s been known for a while that a particularly exuberant female fan chucked a celebratory bra onto the ice during Thursday night’s hat trick festivities along with the stream of baseball-style hats, but the bra’s resting place is an instant classic: directly on the life-sized stuffed bear that the Bruins have stowed away in the trainer’s room.
Now Blake Wheeler leads all NHL rookies in goals scored this season and in bra tricks.
Here’s an excerpt of the full entry from Farber:
The Bruins always have had the most elaborate hat-trick ritual in the NHL. It involves a life-sized stuffed bear that once resided in a corner of the dressing room and is now tucked away in the trainer’s room. A Boston hat-trick scorer has been allowed to choose his favorite from all the hats on the ice and plop it on the bear’s head, where it stays until the next hat trick.
But the Bruins bear is in different duds now. In addition to the caps that greeted Wheeler’s accomplishment, a fan — let’s hope it was a woman — threw a bra onto the ice, which veteran defenseman Aaron Ward conceded was a first in his career. A sheepish Wheeler autographed it, and now, well, the bear has more support than it knows what to do with.
Boston probably won’t win the Stanley Cup this season, but it already has laid claim to the C Cup.
|Julien leaning toward playing Kobasew||11.07.08 at 1:58 pm ET|
Bruins head coach Claude Julien indicated after Friday morning’s practice that he’s “leaning toward” inserting winger Chuck Kobasew back into the Black and Gold’s lineup on Saturday. The B’s are set to host the Buffalo Sabres Saturday night and will be looking to capture their third straight victory on home ice this season.
Kobasew has been skating with the team for the better part of two weeks, and said he’s passed every medical clearance hurdle before deeming himself ready to return to the ice. The former Boston College forward scored 22 goals and 17 assists in 73 games for the B’s last season and had formed with David Krejci and Blake Wheeler to create an extremely effective line during the preseason finale and opening night against the Colorado Avalanche.
“We’ve given the fourth line a lot of credit for being the type of line that they are and giving us the energy that we need ‘ but David Krejci’s line, whoever he played with,” said Julien. “[Blake] Wheeler and [Chuck] Kobasew that first game and even the last exhibition game…that line was dominant.”
Kobasew said he was “anxious” to get back on the ice and that he’d passed every hurdle in testing the full health of his right ankle. The additional practice he’s received this week has also allowed the the 6-foot, 193-pound mixture of skill and scrap to lock in his timing on the ice, and attempt to make a seamless transition back from the injured reserve list.
“I feel fine now and the last couple of days have been good,” said Kobasew. “They gave me a little extra time to practice with the guys and I’m feeling good. I’ve been skating for almost two weeks now. Now I’m just anxious to get out there and play.
“We’ll see what they want to do and go from there,” added Kobasew. “You want to play no matter what…even in the first couple of days after I got hurt. Now it’s nice to be out there skating with the guys and getting back into it. I’m looking forward to playing.”
It’s doubtful that Blake Wheeler — hot off the heels of a hat trick against the Toronto Maple Leafs — will be removed from the top four lines, which would leave Petteri Nokelainen as the most logical player to be a healthy scratch if/when Kobasew makes his return Saturday night. It’s possible that a late injury could remove somebody else from the mix, but Julien said in some ways it’s a pleasant dilemma in making such difficult roster decisions.
“It’s a tough decision, but it’s a great position to be in,” said Julien. “I don’t like making those decisions because it’s not a lot of fun, but it’s a lot better than putting guys in that don’t necessarily deserve to be in the lineup. I’d rather be in this position than the other one.”
–Julien gave B’s center Patrice Bergeron the day off on Friday — an admission by the coach that his young center has been pushing hard since the first day of training camp in his recovery from last season’s nasty concussion. No injury or problems, just a simple day away from the frozen office.
–Good story by Puck Daddy at Yahoo! about success stories and failed attempts by athletes to change their uniform numbers a la Blake Wheeler last night.
|Sounds of the game… Bruins 5, Leafs 2||11.06.08 at 11:11 pm ET|
It might be time to start asking just who is Blake Wheeler.
Wheeler is now tied with Toronto’s Mikhail Grabovski for the NHL rookie goal lead with 6. ‘¦ Dennis Wideman won $100 for scoring the goal on Andrew Ference‘s 100th career assist. Ference said before the game he would offer the reward to the lucky goal-scorer. Thursday marked Zdeno Chara‘s 700th career game.
Now for the stars of the game.
|Hockey Notes: Good things from Kessel||10.18.08 at 9:38 am ET|
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
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.”
|Cut-down day for the Bruins||10.07.08 at 12:21 pm ET|
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.