|Who doesn’t love Bruins’ fun facts?||12.26.08 at 8:43 pm ET|
Here’s some Bruins stats and factoids to chew on coming out of their two-day Christmas break…these all come courtesy of Bruins media relations mavens Eric Tosi and Matt Chmura, who do a great of getting hacks like me exactly what we need to relay it out to the good folks of Bruins Nation. That would be you…assuming you’re good, of course.
HOME ICE ADVANTAGE: Boston has won their last 13 contests on home ice. This win streak is their longest such stretch since a 16-game home win streak from January 10 – March 25, 1976. It is the longest home winning streak in the league this season and is the fifth longest in team history behind streaks of 20, 19, 16 and 15. Their last loss at home came on October 23 against Toronto.
BEANTOWN BOUND:The Bruins have 13 games in January, 10 of which are at home. This includes a six-game homestand to start the New Year from January 1 through January 13. January is quite different schedule-wise from December, when the Bruins had 13 games, 9 of which were on the road.
HIT MAN:Winger Milan Lucic currently leads the NHL in hits with 135. Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik is second behind Lucic with 124.
COURTESY OF THE BOSTON BRUINS WEEK AHEAD STAT MACHINE…The Bruins currently have an NHL-best 11 players that are +10 or better. New Jersey and Chicago have the second most, as they both have six players who are +10 or better. The 11 Bruins are: Marc Savard (+21), David Krejci (+19), Blake Wheeler (+19), Dennis Wideman (+17), Milan Lucic (+16), Phil Kessel (+16), Zdeno Chara (+15), Matt Hunwick (+13), Shane Hnidy (+13), Michael Ryder (+12) and Mark Stuart (+10).
BRUINS ON THE NHL LEADERBOARD (AS OF DECEMBER 26):
-The Bruins lead the Eastern Conference in wins (25), fewest losses (5), goals for (126), goals against (77) and points (54)
-The Bruins lead the NHL in goals for (126) and are second in goals against (77, Minnesota 76).
-The Bruins own the NHL’s third ranked power play overall (26.6%). They also have the best power play in the league at home (36.1%)
-Marc Savard ranks tied for fourth in the league in points with 40 (E. Malkin, PIT 58)
-Phil Kessel ranks fourth in the league in goals scored with 21 (J. Carter, PHI 26)
-Marc Savard ranks fourth in the league in assists with 29 (E. Malkin, PIT 43)
-Marc Savard ranks second in the league in plus/minus with a +21 (E. Malkin, +22) while Blake Wheeler and David Krejci are tied for fourth at +19.
-Blake Wheeler ranks fifth among rookies in points with 20 (D. Brassard, CBJ 25), tied for third in goals scored with11 (M. Grabovski, TOR 12) and first in plus/minus
-Matt Hunwick ranks fifth among rookies in assists with 11 (K. Versteeg, CHI 17) and second in plus/minus with +13 (B. Wheeler, BOS +18)
-Manny Fernandez ranks thrid in Goals Against Average with a 2.09 mark (S. Mason, CBJ 1.98)
-Tim Thomas ranks second in Goals Against Average with a 2.04 mark, second in Save Percentage (.935%) behind Craig Anderson (.940%) and second in shutouts with 3 (R. Luongo, VAN 5).
That’s it for now, but come back to Pucks with Haggs shortly and I’m going to have a little post-Christmas Wish list for each member of the Boston Bruins over the final 48 games of the NHL regular season — and then, of course, the playoffs.
|Kessel on the Big Show||12.18.08 at 11:21 am ET|
Among a team of young Bruins breathing life into a previously moribund franchise, Phil Kessel has been the brightest constellation in the Bruins hockey universe. The 21-year-old winger has become a dynamic scoring force in his third year in the league, and has paired with Marc Savard to become one of the top scoring duos in the NHL this season. People keep looking for a specific turning point for Kessel, and he surely has stepped up his intensity and two-way play. But don’t overlook that this is the first time in his NHL career that young Kessel has played an extended amount of time with a legit playmaker in Marc Savard at the center position.
They had always played together in short bursts through their careers in Boston, but this 30 game stretch is the longest period of time that their two intertwining skills have been married on the frozen sheet. (Just look at last season’s early box scores when Savard was skating with Peter Schaefer and Brandon Bochenski…my how times have changed.)
Kessel was recently named the Top Star in last week’s NHL Three Stars competition, and was a guest of WEEI’s Big Show yesterday afternoon. Here’s the transcript:
What’s the difference? What light went on? PK: You know, I don’t know. I think I’m getting some better chances skating with Savard and Lucic. You play with those two and we have pretty good chemistry together. They find me in good spots and I’m getting some good chances.
It’s got to be reassuring that Lucic is one of the top policeman in the league right now and he can also put the puck in the net. PK: Obviously it’s nice and he clears a lot of room for me and Savvy out there. He’s a skilled player too and he can really make things happen out there.
What’s it like being a Bruin now as opposed to two years ago? PK: It’s way different. My first year you could really just tell there wasn’t as much support for the Bruins. You would go to the games and there weren’t as many fans. It’s way different now. There’s much more hype now. We’re getting big crowds and people are into it, and it feels much different to be a Bruin right now.
What has Claude Julien meant to you personally? PK: Well, ah I think he’s helped me mature as a hockey player and helped my two-way game improve. He always tells me that if you play good defense then the offense will come.
You guys have an 11 game win streak at home. How much do you feed off playing at a full house? PK: It’s been a big factor when it’s a packed house and the fans are excited and loud. We get fired up and want to play that much harder to get a win in our own building.
Blake Wheeler…you guys were teammates in Minnesota. Have you been surprised by how quickly he’s developed at such a young age? PK: Well, he’s a great player. Obviously he was a high draft pick and he’s one of my buddies. Playing with him at Minnesota, I knew what kind of player he is and what kind of skill he brings. Overall, I wasn’t overly surprised that he’s having a good year and playing really well for us.
Phil, did you help recruit him at all to the Bruins? PK: No. I stayed out of it. He’s one of my good friends, but that was his decision. He has to make his choice that’s best for him. Obviously, he’s chosen Boston and its worked out pretty well for him.
We saw the highlights when Chara went out and protected you. What does that mean in the locker room? PK: It means a lot. It means that he’s a great leader. It means guys care for each other. When a guy will scrap for another guy I think it says a lot for the guy. Obviously he’s our Captain and he’s a great leader in the locker room. It means a lot to our team.
Do you buy him a watch or anything? PK: Yeah, right. Obviously I said thank you for that. It means a lot for a teammate to step up and defend you.
After the series with the Canadiens the team was definitely headed in the right direction. But could you have dreamed the team would have this much success? PK: Well, you always have to believe that. You’ve always got to go out and work hard on your game, and get better with each game and with each practice. You just keep going and moving forward.
Phil, you seem to really take advantage of your speed. Sometimes it can take a while for a young player to find ways to create space, though. Was there a turning point for you where you found a way to create more space? PK: Obviously it took a little bit. I think this year has been a little different because I’ve been skating with Savvy and Looch, and we just have good chemistry out there. Looch gives us a lot of space and Savvy will find you with the puck wherever you’re at. You just have to get open. When you’re open it’s better because he’s going to get the puck around to you pretty much all the time.
There also seems to be a big difference with this team, particularly in the power play this year. What’s been the difference? PK: I think that we’re getting more shots and making more plays getting pucks to the net. I think we’ve got more screens going on in front of the net, and guys are willing to pay the price to score goals.
Can you talk about the nice mix of young guys and veterans on this Bruins team? PK: Well, I think it’s really important. We’ve got a good mix of young guys, older guys and rookies. I think everybody cares about each other on this team and would do anything for the other guys. When you have that in the locker room, it makes it much easier to go out on the ice and do whatever it takes to win hockey games.
Tim Thomas established himself last year. Manny Fernandez has played well this season. Can you talk about the play of the goalies this year? PK: Yeah, it’s comforting for our team. No matter who’s in net, we’re confident they’re going to play well for us. We’ve got two really elite goaltenders that can go in between the pipes for us. They’re going to stop the puck and play great for us every night.
How important has it been to play through some of the injuries this season, particularly on the blue line? PK: You just look at it like we’ve got a lot of good young guys in Providence and whoever gets called up is going to step in right away and contribute. [Matt] Hunwick has been having a great season for us, and the other night I thought Marty Karsums came up and did really well for us. He did all of the little things right. We’re just confident we can put anybody in the lineup and they’ll do great for us.
For the first time in a long time, this team has three really great lines. It’s very refreshing to see that. PK: We can roll all of our lines and be confident that they’re going to do the job. If you look at Krejci, Wheeler and Ryder’s line they’re playing great right now and scoring a lot of goals. Bergie’s line is doing well too, but they’ve just got to get going. I think they’re playing good hockey and it’ll eventually show up more on the offensive end.
Is there any one guy you kind of lean on in the locker room for advice and things like that? PK: I don’t think anyone in particular. I think we’re a pretty close-knit group and every guy looks out for each other and will help any of the other guys.
|Hockey Notes: Hunwick earning his spot||12.07.08 at 12:27 pm ET|
Members of the Bruins brain trust correctly predicted that — after playing 10 games in 18 days through a brutal November stretch of hockey – the Black and Gold would begin incurring some injuries that would challenge the team’s overall depth. The Bruins flew through that stretch with a bevy of W’s and continue building a burgeoning lead in the Eastern Conference’s top spot, but bumps and bruised began cropping at a position where Boston could seemingly least afford them: the blue line.
First it was Andrew Ference going down with a broken right tibia and then Aaron Ward followed with a left leg injury, likely a sprained ankle that wasn’t going to keep a tough-as-nails customer like Ward out for a long stretch. But then Dennis Wideman missed a game with the dreaded “middle body injury” and things really began to stretch out in an area that Boston wasn’t especially deep.
But a funny thing happened along the way to Boston succumbing to their defenseman injury woes: they discovered a host of other young guys that have stepped up and filled in along the vacant spots. Matt Lashoff and Johnny Boychuk, who was send back down to the AHL this afternoon, have both arrived fresh off the AHL bus ride circuit to step up and provide steady D-man coverage — with a hint of offensive potential from each young colt — and 23-year-old Matt Hunwick has been an absolute revelation for the Spoked B.
Hunwick was the last defenseman returned to Providence when cuts came down at the end of training camp, and he was handed marching orders to continue raising his competitive levels during one-on-one battles for the puck while gaining physical strength to shake off the hurtling bodycheckers abundant in the NHL.
Hunwick kept his solid D-zone responsibilities and puck-moving ways sharp in two games with the P-Bruins between two different call-ups to Boston, and the 23-year-old was the first one called up to “The Show” when Ference was lost for an extended period.
Young forwards Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Blake Wheeler and Phil Kessel are rightfully getting much of the credit for the puck renaissance that’s currently taking place in the Hub, but Hunwick has similarly emerged as a force within Claude Julien’s defense-first system. The 5-foot-10, 187-pound rookie is behind only Wideman and Zdeno Chara when it comes to defenseman scoring for the B’s with three goals and six assists in 14 games, and he boasts the second-best +/- along the blueline with a sterling +12 mark. More importantly, he’s given the Bruins an average of 21 minutes of ice time per night over the last five games, which has softened the sting of the injury bug along the blue line.
The game of hockey is – in many ways — a game of dopplegangers, where any observant player can scout out another skater with the same skill set, physical attributes and on-ice temperament and begin absorbing valuable puck lessons. Prior to the iron man hockey act he’s pulled over the last handful of games, there were a glut of contests early in the season that Hunwick didn’t dress for. Hunwick instead opted spent his time watching his fellow defensemen — with a discerning eye toward Wideman and Ference. Ference, in particular, is a good match for the relatively undersized Hunwick and offensively-skilled defenseman.
“I’ve tried to be more aggressive in the play and I’m trying to get more of an edge out there,” said Hunwick. “[Ference] is the same size as me and he’s definitely a guy that I paid attention to when I was up in the press box watching the game. Not only is it the size thing, but the way he’s able to be physically involved at his size too. How hard and intensely he plays, how smart he plays and how good he is on special teams. He’s been around playing this game for a long time, and there’s a lot I’ve learned from him.”
Hunwick’s elevation within the eyes of the Bruins’ coaching staff was never more apparent than their highly successful two-game swing through Florida. During the third period a tight, one-goal effort against Tampa Bay, Hunwick (a career-high 23:27 of ice time), Shane Hnidy (who also elevated his game to another level during a serious time of need for the B’s) and Chara were all playing yeoman’s minutes with a depleted corps, and they still managed to hold down a group of individual offensive talents to one goal. Down three D-men, it was just another night for the NHL’s best defensive crew ( one of only three teams that have allowed less than 60 goals this season along with the Ottawa Senators and the notoriously defense-minded Minnesota Wild) and another rookie quickly learning the new-and-improved Bruins Way of doing things.
“The more he plays and the better he’s going to get, and that’s really just the normal cycle of experience,” said Bruins head coach Claude Julien. “He’s been put through game situations and so there’s improvement through game experience and there’s a real raising of his confidence levels.
“Every game we keep a close eye on him and gauge how things are going, and if he’s playing well then we’ve got to make sure we find him some ice and if he’s having a tough night then we make sure he doesn’t lose his confidence,” added Julien. “We keep a close eye on him, but he’s playing very good hockey right now.”
For Hunwick, watching Wideman and Ference — before he went down — was like attending a Defenseman Master Class. The young defenseman, who displayed outstanding leadership abilities first skating for the US National Team Development Program and then along to the Michigan Wolverines and the minor leagues, is beginning to look like a steal out of a productive 2004 entry draft for the Bruins that also churned out Krejci and high-scoring Chicago Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg. While Krejci and Versteeg were both taken in the first few rounds, Hunwick was a seventh round selection that’s already begun making inroads toward a full time job in the NHL.
“It’s a big opportunity to play good minutes and be a big part of this defensive corps,” said Hunwick. “I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help this squad, and also show the coaching staff that I’m capable of playing at this level.”
|First blood at the Gahden||11.21.08 at 9:30 pm ET|
There’s a reason they call it drawing first blood.
The Bruins have scored the first goal an amazing 15 times in their 20 games thus far this season, and it’s allowed the Black and Gold to truly go on the offensive and attack other teams with previously unseen aplomb. In those 15 games the Bruins have built up an impressive 10-3-2 record.
So during a rare Friday evening tilt in the Hub — the first in over 30 years for the Bruins – when a first place hockey team easily could have been caught sleepwalking through an anti-climactic match against the lowly Florida Panthers — with perhaps a wandering eye cast toward the Montreal Canadiens tomorrow night at the Bell Centre — the Big Bad B’s simply took care of business in a tidy 4-2 win. A victory so convincing that it saw restless B’s fans doing the wave in the third period of a blowout win that registers as Boston’s seventh straight at the TD Banknorth Garden.
The attention to detail is part of a mantra that Bruins coach Claude Julien obviously stressed to his team prior to the game, with an eye toward an Ottawa Senators team that bounded purposefully out of the gate last season before collapsing and crawling into the playoffs. While there aren’t any Ray Emery-style problem children in the Boston dressing room to spark turmoil, the staunch marching orders to avoid any “fat cat” syndrome were clearly understood, processed and performed to a ‘T’ on the ice last night.
The B’s players are so intent on the nightly task at hand that veteran and past Stanley Cup winner Aaron Ward is now simply refusing to mention the dreaded ‘P’ word (playoffs) in relation to the Black and Gold. You won’t hear the words “NHL” and “playoffs” coming out of Ward’s mouth until April or so…Ward refused to utter “playoffs” last night in context with the Bruins, and said he’d only be talking about “the NBA or the NFL playoffs” for a nice long time.
Ward obviously has been around long enough to know that something pretty special is starting to take place on Causeway Street.
“One of the things they preached at the beginning of the year was positioning,” said Ward. “Teams that have really positioned themselves well by Thanksgiving have a tendency to really…uh….put themselves in a favorable position with…uh…I don’t want to use the word. You can fill it in. Put themselves in good position for…it’s kind of an omen, I can’t say it…for the end of the year. I don’t want to say the ‘P’ word.
“For us [Friday night's win] was a job we talked about from the top down. Claude talked about it and the players talked about it,” added Ward. “We had a discussion about it at the pregame skate amongst the players. About where we are and our state of being. We can’t rest on our laurels at any point this season. We’ve got to think about the here and now. The ‘P’ word is not going to be mentioned…at least not in this [locker room] stall.”
Ward’s words — minus any onerous ‘P’ words – seemed to be right in line with the message that Julien delivered to the esteemed Fourth Estate after the game. It was something about staying inside the warm, welcoming and comfortable bubble the Bruins have built for themselves while setting the standard of excellence in the Eastern Conference with 30 points through 20 games.
“I don’t think we feel too good about ourselves, and the one thing we do realize, and, you’ve got to remember guys, we can start reading what you guys are writing, and we can believe everything. Or we can stay in our little bubble and understand what got us to where we are and realize that those kinds of things are what’s going to keep us there,” said Julien. “I’m saying that because our team has not had to face this kind of situation for a long time, and we have to learn to be able to handle this.
“Being in first place is great, but the minute you get comfortable – and I can use the Ottawa Senators, 15-2 last year, and I can use other examples as well – this is a humbling game, and we just have to make sure that we understand what it takes every night,” added Julien “That’s the kind of message we keep giving our team: don’t get too high, don’t get too low, but don’t start believing everything you read.
The Bruins effectively outshot, outlasted and outclassed an underwhelming Panthers hockey club. They also won the inevitable game of fisticuffs that appeared once the game got out of hand in the second period. Milan Lucic and old friend Nick Boynton engaged in a tough guy scrum at center ice that spilled plenty of blood from both sides.
Both players got a few shots in, but Boynton left the ice after Lucic opened up a cut along the former Bruins defenseman’s forehead following a series of vicious right and left-handed mixture of jabs and haymakers. Boynton’s face was a bloody mess by the end of the brawl. That decision easily went to the Big Looch, which makes him 2-0 in fights on the season after bloodying Boynton and knocking Mike Komisarek out of the Habs lineup with a shoulder injury. There has to be, however, some extra credit given to the steely Boynton for hanging in and getting a few licks of his own in amid the flurry of Lucic fists, which were also red with blood by the end of the exchange.
Aaron Ward also tangled with Keith Ballard after the veteran defenseman came in hard — and perhaps a bit low — on Marc Savard in the middle of the second period. It was business as usual for Ward, who again showed that this Bruins team isn’t going to timidly back down or fail to protect a teammate when something isn’t sitting well with the B’s bench.
“I thought the hit was late, and then not only was it late but I also thought the hit was low,” said Ward. “It was my first reaction.”
Hunwick continuing to improve
The blueline education of Matt Hunwick continued last night, and the young defenseman kept impressing with an assist and an eye-opening +3 on the evening. That makes it three straight games Hunwick has registered at last one point with a goal and three assists over that short span. While the man he was replacing on the rearguard, Andrew Ference, was playing the best hockey of his career by his own admission, “Huddy” hasn’t been too shabby either as the puck-moving, offensive interim solution along the blue line.
Hunwick’s performance continues to exemplify the impressive organizational depth that the Bruins have built up for themselves. Their roster goes well past the 20 skaters dressing on a nightly basis and extends to another 3-5 players capable of stepping in without a beat when the inevitable injury bug beckons. All told, Hunwick has a goal and three assists along with a +7 in eight games this season and was given a bit of time on the power play unit Friday night as a reward for his consistent efforts.
“We talk about confidence and the experience. He’s getting better and a lot of has to do with because he’s playing. A lot of it starts in practice and he’s been patient and working hard,” said Julien. “Now he’s got a chance to play and when you’ve got some games where you’ve got a lead you can use him even more. That’s the way that you develop players. He’ll be getting those opportunities if he responds, and lately he’s been responding.”
The Kids are all right
The impressive early returns on David Krejci continue to pour in, and no solitary play was more indicative of the 22-year-old’s patience, stick-handling and creativity than his second period goal which pushed the B’s lead to 3-1. Krejci found the puck on his stick along the right side with a good deal of open ice in front of
him, but — rather than make a mad impetuous dash toward the net as many NHL youngsters might in that frantic situation — the young centerman instinctively pulled the puck back, slowed the throbbing tempo to a hockey crawl and then deftly slid a cross-ice pass over to Chuck Kobasew.
Kobasew fired at the net and the loose puck promptly kicked right back to Krejci for the easy putback goal — a simple, elegant, dare I say nifty hockey play that continues to scratch away at what’s promising to be a great surface for the young Czech Republic skater.
“That’s David Krejci,” said Julien. “He controls the play so well and he controls the pace of it too. I’ve seen players in the past that were so good at that. I remember J.F. Sauve from the Quebec Nordiques was one of those guys that would make those plays to slow things down. John Chabot, who’s an assistant coach with the Islanders was one of those players too. They’re gifted with the stick and they find seams. Savvy does it a bit for us too. He’s a good players and he’s just starting to grow into the player that we all expected him to be.”
While Krejci has impressed with the way he’s conjured up magic tricks with the puck, Kessel continues to simply burn away hapless defenders with his rare combination of speed and dead-eye shot. Kessel got behind the Panthers ‘D’ after a great tape-to-tape pass by Savard, and beat Tomas Vokoun with a forehand for the game’s first goal — an easy-as-pie pseudo penalty shot for the sniping scorer.
“I’m not doing anything different,” said Kessel, when asked what’s improved for him this season. “The pucks are finding the back of the net now, and they weren’t before. That’s about it. There’s no magic formula.”
With Friday night’s score, Kessel has a team-high 10 goals in only 20 games and seems well on his way to becoming Boston’s first 40-goal scorer since Glen Murray sniped 44 tallies for the Black and Gold way back in 2002-2003 en route to a 92 point season.
Hard to believe it’s been that long since the Bruins had a 40-goal scorer. Or maybe it isn’t given the recent history of the Bruins Crew.
“It seems like he and Savvy are feeding off each other,” said Ward. “It’s the old [University of Michigan hockey coach] Red Berenson thing, If you have speed you’ve got to use it. Especially now with the rule changes we as defenseman can do nothing about it.”
|Sobotka, Hunwick pumped to be back||10.14.08 at 11:24 am ET|
Bruins Tuesday afternoon after a trade (Andrew Alberts) and an injury (Chuck Kobasew) cleared up a pair of spots on the active roster.
Sobotka was a monster down in Providence in his two games for the P-Bruins (four points and his first professional dropping of the gloves) and Hunwick said somebody told him it was like “watching a man among boys” while Sobotka was tearing up the ice at the AHL level. Hunwick is the potential quick-skating, puck-moving defenseman that is vital in this day and age of the NHL, and should be competing with veteran Shane Hnidy for minutes. Sobotka is a “gritty, in-your-face player” who “plays like he’s six foot plus” no matter size he really is according to head coach Claude Julien. The coach said that both players can expect to see ice time in the near future, if not immediately. The long on-ice practice seemed to indicated that at least one (Sobotka) — if not both — will be active Wednesday night against the first grudge match of the season at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
“When you look at Matt Hunwick everybody notices that he’s got good mobility and he’s a great skater. He’s gotten stronger over the year since the beginning of last year and his decisions on the ice have to be a little quicker — let’s put it way – in order for him to improve the way that we want him to,” said Julien after Tuesday’s practice. “He’s still doing a good job at it, and when you look at players improving, it’s something that if he can get better at it he’s going to be a really good defenseman in the this league.
“With Vlad we talked about the numbers game and he had to go down there for a while when we had to cut our roster down, but he’s a gritty player,” added Julien. “He’s in your face. No matter what size he is, he plays six-foot plus every single night. He works hard, plays gritty and that’s part of our team identity. I haven’t made my final decision for tomorrow [night's line-up], but we didn’t bring them up here to put them on the shelf. If it’s not tomorrow then it’s some point [soon].”
Also for all those wondering, Sobotka did drive his nice, new BMW 3 Series up to Boston after learning of his call-up. The 21-year-old Czech was summarily excited to be back up with the B’s big club, and he would have likely never left the club if not for the numbers/salary cap tightness that was a part of the equation.
“They send me down and they told me I’d be back after a short period. I’m going to play NHL and try to stay here for whole season. I had maybe more ice time in Providence,” said Sobotka, who scored a goal and six assists in 48 games last year. “I play PP, PK and it’s good for now that it’s changed and I’ll be on fourth line and maybe have less ice time. I’ll just play one game at a time up here.”
Hunwick had just finished eating lunch with his parents at the Cheesecake Factory and was book-shopping at a bookstore on Newbury Street when he heard the good news about getting called back up to Boston on Monday. The 23-year-old blueliner has 12 career NHL games under his belt — and one lonely assist – so he bolted quickly from the bookstore without buying the latest John Grisham novel and didn’t waste any time getting his gear ready to bring back to Boston.
“It’s an opportunity to prove I can play at this level and also help the team win,” said Hunwick. “I was playing 20 minutes a night in Providence and killing penalties and getting power play team. I got some key minutes in those areas in case I’m ever needed on those units up here. I had my phone off and it was kind of a day off so I could get away from things. But then I turned it on and had a few text messages from friends that gave me a clue this was happening, so here I am today.”
|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.
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