|Bruins continue to come up short on offense||11.03.09 at 11:26 pm ET|
The timing is simply too coated in irony to ignore.
The Bruins dropped another game to the Detroit Red Wings by a 2-0 score and lost two straight games for the first time this season in the process, and haven’t scored a goal in exactly 132:58 and counting. Once again they completely whiffed with an 0-for-3 on the power play — which drops them to 0-for-their-last-17 power play chances — and couldn’t muster up any notable offense over the course of the game aside from a pair of early Marco Sturm opportunities and a few post-worthy bids.
The B’s are averaging 1.85 goals per game in the seven contests since Savard landed on long term injured reserve with a broken left foot, and that isn’t going to win a lot of hockey games.
Meanwhile, in Toronto, Phil Kessel played his first game for the Maple Leafs coming off shoulder surgery and fired a career-high 10 shots on net while playing 23:50 of ice time in the overtime loss — a good two minutes more than the ice time logged for any member of the Bruins in their listless loss to the Wings. Kessel was buzzing around the net all night and showing the kind of dynamic offensive presence that Boston is sorely lacking. The Black and Gold have to work ridiculously hard for their offense right now, and things aren’t getting any better.
The B’s are playing solid enough defense (exactly 2 goals per game in their last seven), getting pretty decent goaltending and playing with effort and grit in most instances, but they simply have no finish to their game. David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron can both give the Bruins quality play at the center spot, but they don’t have wingers capable of finishing with anything approaching a flourish. Bergeron led the B’s with four shots attempted on net Tuesday night, and the Black and Gold simply don’t have that one game-changing force able to lift them out of the goal-scoring doldrums.
YOU’RE THE BEST AROUND, NOTHING’S EVER GONNA BRING YOU DOWN: Got to give it Kessel. He didn’t score and finished a minus-1 for the game, but he squeezed off a game-high 10 shots and showed more offensive dominance in one game than many of the Boston forwards have all season. He showed some toughness shaking off a Matthias Ohland hit in the first period that bloodied his lip, and gave Toronto fans a preview of the explosive skill set the 22-year-old brought to the table for three seasons with the Spoked B. Give Shawn Thornton full marks for skating the entire game as if his pants were on fire. The fourth-line tough guy finished with a game-high nine hits, but he couldn’t spark a genuinely lifeless Bruins bunch.
GOAT HORNS: The power play might be taking permanent residence in this spot soon enough. The B’s have put up a pungent 0-for-17 on the PP, and went 0-for-3 with two cruddy shots on goal for the entire night. The B’s are 1-for-20 on the PP without Marc Savard and sit at a miserable 11.5 percent success rate. That’s 6-for-52 on the season, and a 2-for-44 mark without counting their four power play goals against the Carolina Hurricanes in the second game of the season.
|Kessel set to suit up for the Maple Leafs||at 1:06 pm ET|
It’s clear now that it was first and foremost all about the money for Phil Kessel, and secondly about some measure of respect he didn’t feel from the organization while constantly hearing his name bandied about in trade rumors through three strangely turbulent years with the Boston Bruins.
Phil the Thrill got his wish to escape from Boston and the Spoked B way of doing things, and the 22-year-old scorer savant informed reporters Tuesday afternoon that he will indeed play his first game for the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight. Kessel will be riding shotgun with veteran center Matt Stajan and Jason Blake. That’s not exactly the same as skating alongside Marc Savard, but it’s the best that Toronto can muster at this point.
It’s exactly six months since Kessel went under the knife for rotator cuff and labrum surgery in his left shoulder, and the sniper returned a solid 7-10 days prior to previous expectations and timetables.
It’s not the miraculous early return that allowed cetner David Krejci to play Bruins’ Opening Night after undergoing surgery on his right hip, but it also doesn’t sound like a slow, deliberate recovery by a player viewed by those in and around the Boston organization as being “soft” in terms of focus, work ethic and play on the ice. The arrows were released against the 36-goal scorer last summer when it became apparent the big money in Toronto was too good to pass up, but there’s one thing that isn’t under dispute about Kessel’s game: the kid can score.
Kessel is the age of many players either playing or just leaving the college hockey ranks in the United States, and — as one scout said about Kessel when things were heating up — “he’s just a young pup” in terms of hockey development. Former BU defenseman and current New York Rangers rookie Matt Gilroy is one of the heralded youngsters in the league this season, and he is three years older than Kessel. That’s something that seems to escape most people in the Kessel argument. There is a high ceiling for a player that finished 12th in the NHL in goals scorer last season, but the B’s have gambled that No. 81 will never reach a consistent ceiling of 40-50 goals per season.
He won’t be a savior this year for a Maple Leafs team that already appears to be running headlong into a lost season, and it’s not likely he’ll light up the Tampa Bay Lightning in his first game back since the Stanley Cup semi-finals against the Carolina Hurricanes last May.
But Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli was never able to properly replace Kessel’s playmaking abilities, and supply the team with the simple threat of throwing a natural goal-scorer on the ice. The B’s have a collection of nice 20-30 goal-scorers, but they don’t have a single skater that strikes fear into a goaltender with their combination of speed and pinpoint shooting.
Perhaps the treasure trove of draft picks shuffled off to Boston in exchange for Kessel will bring another elite scorer into the B’s fold beginning next season, but right now Boston isn’t able to absorb Kessel’s defection with heightened play from Marco Sturm, Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler among others — and that’s been underscored even more with the loss of Marc Savard and Milan Lucic to injury.
The Bruins have scored 10 goals in their last five games and allowed 10 goals in their last five games, and have been mired dead smack dab in the middle for the entire season. Good enough to avoid any long losing streaks, but just middling enough that they can’t string even two wins together through the first 13 games. That will only get worse should — as unlikely as it may seem – Kessel burst off to a fast offensive start with the Leafs despite missing all of training camp and the first month of the season.
Unfair as it might be, Kessel’s gain would only stir up the masses to begin chanting that familiar New England refrain: “Why can’t we get players like that?”
|B’s searching for scoring against the Rags||11.01.09 at 4:54 pm ET|
Did you hear the one about the Bruins power play?
No, there’s no punchline. It’s just that Boston’s toothless man advantage is one of the biggest jokes currently running in the Eastern Conference. The Black and Gold power play unit squandered five different opportunities against a feisty New York Rangers defense and All-Star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, and the B’s fell by a 1-0 score to the Blueshirts Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.
The Bruins outshot the Rags 14-6 in the third period and 29-23 over the course of 60 minutes, and outhit the Rangers by a 41-28 margin in a game where the Black and Gold clearly paid the price. The biggest difference between the two teams were glaring, however.
Rangers sniper Marian Gaborik provided the only goal of the game in the final minutes of the second period on a pure goal-scorer’s strike from the high slot, and the B’s just couldn’t capitalize on five frittered away power play chances. The biggest disappointment for the team is simply how well they’re playing in just about every other area of the game, but they just don’t have any elite goal-scorers.
Everything earned offensively is going to through gallons of sweat and hard work in front of the net. Goals simply aren’t going to sometimes come easily as they did last season when the B’s were the second-best offense in the NHL. The Bruins now sit 28th in the NHL with a power play that’s scoring only 12.2 percent of the time, and taking out their blowout against the Carolina Hurricanes makes things only more gruesome in these post-Halloween days.
It’s almost fitting that Boston’s scoring fits are coming in the same week that Phil Kessel is expected to make his debut with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and give their woebegone franchise the scoring transfusion that the B’s seem to badly need after the season’s first month. Patrice Bergeron and Blake Wheeler share the B’s lead in goal-scoring with four apiece, and Boston needs to do much better if they hope to escape a .500 fate that seems all too realistic 13 games into the season.
YOU’RE THE BEST AROUND, NOTHING’S EVER GONNA KEEP YOU DOWN:Brad Marchand played a physical spark plug game for the Bruins, and finished with five shots on net and three registered hits in 17:18 of action. His open ice flying shoulder hit on fellow rookie Michael DelZotto was exactly what the B’s could use more of. Mark Recchi was also a strong presence around the net in the third period when Boston was trying to force overtime and secure a point.
GOAT HORNS:Ummm, power play anyone? No offense, but no offense. This is becoming a serious flaw within the hockey team, and one has to hope it’s not a fatal flaw for this season.
|Cherry on Kessel: ‘I feel sorry for this kid when he comes back’||10.19.09 at 9:30 am ET|
There was a little bit of Bruins talk during Don Cherry’s Coach’s Corner segment on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada last weekend, and it centered on Phil Kessel and Marc Savard. Grapes talked a bit about the growing groundswell of pressure loading up on the 21-year-old Kessel with the Toronto Maple Leafs struggling badly out of the gate. With each loss the 2010 first-round pick traded to the B’s for Kessel gets higher in value, and the expectations increase on a young player coming back from shoulder surgery with a mid-November return date.
Cherry also tossed a few attaboys at Savard while decrying his Olympic snub by Team Canada, and painted some other invitees are skating around “with minus-15′s” already this season. Good stuff as always from Dandy Don. Here’s the video courtesy of youtube with the Bruins-related stuff coming up around the 3:15 mark.
|Milbury: NHLPA fiasco may be impacting Bruins||10.18.09 at 4:31 pm ET|
In the wake of the dismissal and questions behind the process involved, there’s been a bit of upheaval within the NHL player representation that included the Bruins. Andrew Ference was the player rep for the last two seasons and perhaps the biggest name behind Kelly’s firing, and he’s been replaced at the position by defenseman Mark Stuart – with Dennis Wideman stepping up as the assistant player rep.
There had been whispers of discontent among some Bruins players about the dismissal and the actual process used by the NHLPA following the 3 a.m. setting of Kelly’s firing and in-house positioning for the position that’s taken place since the Kelly move. Several Bruins players are expected to be part of an NHLPA-sponsored conference call on Sunday afternoon where all of the issues will be broached, and the players will discuss their next step as an organization badly in need of a new leader and a revamped constitution — along with a complete reputation makeover.
Mark Recchi was one B’s player unhappy about the process behind Kelly’s sacking, and wasn’t all that shy about his disapproval. There had also been some philosophic discussions between the two players during the first few weeks of the season that some characterized as heated debate within the dressing room.
Both Recchi and Ference publicly stated that there’s no lingering animosity or negative feelings permeating through the Bruins dressing room since Ference decided to step down as player rep, but NESN analyst and former Bruins Mike Milbury seemed to hint that things may still be festering among the B’s concerning the NHLPA mess during his weekly visit with NHL Live! on XM Radio Thursday afternoon.
Milbury opined about the reported demise of the Lighthouse Project and Wayne Gretzky among other things, but his Bruins analysis proved the most interesting.
Here’s what Milbury had to say when Rob Simpson and Bill Jaffe asked the NBC and Hockey Night in Canada commentator what had to be done to improve a struggling B’s team:
MM:Everything. Huge expectations for the Boston Bruins. They’ve got a Vezina Trophy winner, a Norris Trophy winner and the coach of the year and they come out the gate with everybody dreaming of a Stanly Cup. Tim Thomas has been average and everybody has been running around like crazy. I can’t believe the kind of mental errors the Bruins have made. What made the Bruins so good under Claude Julien was how they were so disciplined and so structured that they could always find a way to win even if their offense might sputter.
Speaking of offense, it’s pretty clear that the Phil Kessel deal has had a negative impact on this team. They miss his speed and creative ability as well as his ability to score goals. Having said that with Peter Chiarelli, and I’m sure it doesn’t matter to the fans of Boston, but the front office is beginning to salivate when they look up to the Great White North and see what’s going on in Toronto. They see their record and begin to salivate a little.
Has Marc Savard played in both ends? MM:Actually, he’s been fine. He’s one of those guys that’s been okay. I can’t knock him. Lucic has been a guy that’s been a little off his game. They really need him as a sparkplug in my estimation. Marco Sturm has come back and played pretty well.
There’s no question the Bruins haven’t come out of the gate with the sense of structure and purpose that they’ve come out with in the past two years, and I will say that this NHLPA thing may have had an impact on their locker room. I don’t think it’s going to last forever, but Andrew Ference was in the middle of this thing and getting rid of Paul Kelly. There’s been a lot of heated debate in the Bruins locker room and some chatter about them even trying to move Ference at this point.
He’s been replaced as team rep, right? MM: Yeah, he’s been replaced as team rep, but he was replaced after Paul Kelly was deposed as the PA director. There was a lot of hot topics and discussion going around the Bruins locker room for a while, but who knows how much of an effect it had. The end result of all this that the Bruins have not come out with the kind of drive needed to get to where they want to be [as a team]. They’re not that talented that they can’t bring their work ethic and win hockey games.
|Chiarelli: Kessel ‘no longer wanted to play in Boston’||09.19.09 at 12:03 pm ET|
Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli met with the media on Saturday morning to discuss dealing leading-scorer Phil Kessel to the Toronto Maple Leafs for three high draft picks over the next years, and stated pointedly on several occasions that the 21-year-old winger “no longer wanted to play in Boston”.
Kessel and agent Wade Arnott had, according to Chiarelli, informed him of a couple of reasons why he no longer wanted to a Bruin, and privately gave the GM a couple of reasons why he needed a change of NHL address. That spurred the B’s to trade away Kessel for draft picks in excess of the draft pick compensation for a potential offer sheet, and the Maple Leafs emerged as the only team with the draft pick assets and available cash to swing a trade-and-sign for Boston’s restricted free agent.
One of those reasons behind Kessel’s desire to leave is believed to be B’s coach Claude Julien’s “tough love” relationship with him over their two years together. Some believe that Kessel never forgave the coach for benching him during his first playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens, and preaching the importance of a two-way game over simply being a glorified floater on the ice. Kessel scored 36 goals and was a +23 during his breakout season with the Black and Gold last winter, and much of that on-ice success can be traced back to Julien’s “no soft play allowed” coaching style.
“He had his best season under this coach. Enough said on that,” Chiarelli said of Kessel and Julien. “We stress defense first. We stress competitiveness. Having said all that, what were we, first or second in the league in goals scored? And he had 36, 37 goals? Got him a nice raise.”
The B’s coach, for his part, didn’t get all soft and fuzzy on the relationship he had with a slow-to-mature Kessel during their two seasons together in Boston, but he also didn’t feel like the player/coach dynamic was a big factor in the disconnect between Kessel and the Bruins. In his mind, the coach had done everything possible to make things work for both the player and the hockey club.
“I even told him in a conversation that I didn’t get a (salary) bonus for making him into a bad player. Everything I did was to try and make him a better player, and I think that message was understood,” said Julien. “I think last year his season proved that. He seemed to understand the concept of our team, and besides the 36 goals he was a + player. I feel good personally that I did my best to make him the best player I could, and the rest of that stuff has nothing to do with me.
“I’m not going to sugercoat this. He was no different than any other player that you deal with at times. You never have smooth relationships because there’s challenges along the way. What you need to do as a coach is to convince those guys and make them understand and believe that this is what you need to do to be the best team possible. This is what you need to be the best player possible as well. We all know Phil has always grown up as a superstar player, and those guys are a bit of a bigger challenge. But I can tell you last year there were no issues with him resisting, and there shouldn’t have been because his season proved that it was very successful.”
Chiarelli addressed the addition of the draft picks and the options that it provides the team with $1.7 million under the salary cap. The swap gives the B’s a grand total of five draft picks in the first two rounds of next year’s draft (two first-rounders and three second-rounders), and affords them plenty of assets should they need a particular player at this season’s trade deadline. The Nashville Predators were the other team seriously in on Kessel and a deal with them would have centered on affordable, young prospects (Ryan Ellis, Jon Blum, Colin Wilson) more than draft picks. But no other team — aside from Brian Burke’s well-heeled Maple Leafs – was willing to pay the 21-year-old $5.4 million a year for four years of restricted free agency and one year of UFA status from Kessel.
In so many ways this move by the Bruins smacks of a New England Patriots-style manuever where there was a particular value on a player, and the B’s front office fortified their long-term future once Toronto’s contract offer shot up into the hockey stratosphere. Many of the same factors and beliefs that were at play in the Richard Seymour deal earlier this month are now rearing up on Causeway Street.
Chiarelli added that he could have matched a potential offer sheet from Toronto and then stored Phil Kessel on LTIR (Long Term Injured Reserve) for the entirety of the regular season if the B’s front office felt it was necessary. That would have been a largely punitive move toward the player, and would have forced the B’s to clear off enough space for his gigantic raise in salary.
Chiarelli surely would have been forced to trade off an Andrew Ference or a Chuck Kobasew — or perhaps Michael Ryder – simply to squeeze Kessel’s $5.4 million under the salary cap. That’s not even broaching the contractual decisions that await Chiarelli next season when Milan Lucic, Blake Wheeler and Marc Savard are all looking for new deals. None of his other available options seemed prudent or feasible once Chiarelli viewed the Kessel situation in totality.
“At the end of the day, we want players that want to be here,” said Chiarelli, who also said the perceived threat of the offer sheet played prominently into the eventual trade. “I know this player is a good player. Obviously he is. He can skate and he can shoot the puck. But we want players that want to be here, and we want to grow the team with those type of players. This isn’t about — and I know the history here — but this isn’t about frugality. There was some significant offers made, and there was little to no attempt to negotiate from the other side.
“Phil’s agent gave me a couple of reasons,” added Chiarelli when asked if he knew why Kessel wanted out of Boston. “I was surprised. I don’t know if really there were other reasons. He has that right as a restricted free agent and he can choose (where he signs). It’s all part of this new CBA whether it’s restricted free agency or unrestricted free agency, it comes earlier and arbitration comes earlier so (a player’s) mobility and choice of location comes earlier.”
There were an overflow of ”it’s a business” type quotes from the Bruins players in the aftermath of the Kessel deal, but interesting viewpoints from team Captain Zdeno Chara and close friend Blake Wheeler came to the fore. Several times during their three years together, frustration cropped up with Chara toward the youngster’s game, and then bubbled over in practice.
The towering defenseman hinted afterwards that the young sniper still has a few things to learn about being a successful player in the NHL, and some of it simply comes down to a commitment toward off-ice training and improvements to his game. One imagines that Chara will teach Kessel a few of these painful lessons the first time he ventures into the corners of the TD Garden ice decorated in a Maple Leafs sweater.
“We all know he’s a young, skilled player. When you have young players like that – and not just young players but even older players — you have to realize that you can learn something every day, as they say,” said Chara when asked if he had moments of frustration with #81 during his time in Boston. “He has to realize that learning is a part of the game, and sometimes it’s a little easier and sometimes it’s a little bit harder.”
While Chara said he hadn’t spoken with Kessel at all, Wheeler still chats regularly on the phone with his former University of Minnesota teammate “3 or 4 times a week” and never got the impression that Kessel was quite so dead-set about not coming back to the Bruins.
“Our conversations were never too much about hockey or the business aspect of it. It was more like ‘whatever happens, happens,” said Wheeler. “We never had that particular conversation. At the end of the day, maybe, if he had to pick he would have wanted to be here (in Boston). But it just didn’t work out.”
|Kessel Traded To Leafs for draft picks||09.18.09 at 9:59 pm ET|
Phil Kessel finally has found a new home after a protracted summer of fruitless negotiations with the Bruins as a restricted free agent, and landed in Toronto as part of a much-discussed deal that sent three high draft picks back to Boston. Late Friday night, the Bruins confirmed the deal, which had been reported as a done deal on both TSN and ESPN earlier in the evening. The Bruins scheduled a press conference for 11 a.m. Saturday at the TD Garden for Boston GM Peter Chiarelli to discuss the bold, but not unexpected, move.
The Bruins are set to receive Toronto’s first- and second-round draft pick in 2010, and the Leafs’ first-round pick in 2011. With only $1.7 million worth of room under the salary cap, there was a distinct limit on potential position players coming back to Boston in the deal — and in the end there wasn’t a single prospect or established player sent to the B’s in exchange for a 21-year-old sharpshooter that led the team with 36 goals scored last season.
TSN reported that Kessel agreed to a five-year, $27 million contract with the Maple Leafs, which amounts to $5.4 million per season in average salary and in a cap hit to the Maple Leafs. Kessel had denied that he was looking for a $5 million per season contract earlier this summer while speaking with reporters, but the youngster earned that and then some from Toronto GM Brian Burke. Amazingly, Kessel becomes the highest paid player with the biggest salary cap hit on a Maple Leafs team in desperate need of scoring — and makes nearly $1 million more per season than defenseman Mike Komisarek’s $4.5 million per season.
WEEI.com first reported the schism between Kessel and the Bruins in negotiations several weeks ago, and the young goal-scorer reportedly steered a trade to Toronto by refusing to entertain a contract with any of the other potential trading partners for the Bruins. The Nashville Predators publicly voiced interest in Kessel, but the young sniper was determined to find a landing spot for himself in Toronto.
The question now becomes how an introverted young hockey superstar, known to shun the spotlight, will deal with the heightened scrutiny and attention he’s sure to receive as the new face of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Kessel will be Toronto’s highest-paid player at $5.4 million per year, and — as such — will be labeled as the savior for a downtrodden hockey franchise looking to Burke for a way out of the Northeast Division cellar. Kessel has never dealt with the pressure of being “The Man” in a hockey-crazed environment like Toronto, and there are some legitimate questions how he’ll handle the added attention.
Both teams are rolling the dice here. The B’s are keeping the rest of their team intact amid salary cap limitations, and banking that Kessel will never become a game-changing 50-goal scorer with the Maple Leafs. If that happens, then the Bruins could regret the move for years to come. The Maple Leafs are gambling that the 21-year-old hockey wunderkind is just growing into his fast skating speed and deadly wrist shot, and Kessel will turn into the dynamic offensive force Toronto was missing on their roster.
The 21-year-old winger led the Bruins last season with 36 goals, and he added 24 assists to total a career-high 60 points in 70 games. The return to full health of left wing Marco Sturm from left knee surgery along with continued offensive improvement for Blake Wheeler, Milan Lucic and David Krejci will off-set Kessel’s offensive productuon in the minds of B’s executives, but none of those players have the youngster’s set of scoring tools. His game-breaking ability can’t be duplicated by anybody else on the roster, and that’s certainly a factor that looms large if the B’s go through offensive struggles during the regular season.
Kessel was the team’s third-leading scorer in the playoffs, collecting six goals and five assists in 11 games. In fact, throughout his B’s career Kessel was a point-per-game player in the playoffs with 15 total points in 15 playoff games over the last two seasons. But the young forward clashed with B’s coach Claude Julien over his willingness to always play the kind of impassioned two-way hockey that the Bruins coach demands, and was benched for three games during the 2007-08 playoffs.
Kessel, drafted with the fifth overall pick in 2006 out of the University of Minnesota, ends his Bruins career with 126 points on 66 goals and 60 assists in 222 regular-season games.
Kessel, who had offseason rotator cuff and labrum surgery and is expected to be sidelined at least until November, overcame testicular cancer in 2006, his rookie season in the NHL. In 2007, the Wisconsin native was awarded the Masterton Trophy for perseverance and dedication to hockey. Kessel also missed 12 games with a bout of mononucleosis and the shoulder injury last season.
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