|Projecting Bruins lines with or without Jimmy Vesey||08.18.16 at 9:42 am ET|
The Bruins have made their pitch for Jimmy Vesey. Now they and seven other teams will wait as the player goes about whittling down his list.
While Boston is not the slam-dunk that many assume it is, the Bruins should at least have some confidence in their chances following a two-and-a-half-hour meeting with Vesey on Wednesday. They were Vesey’s last meeting, so as long as they didn’t Ari Gold it, they could have positioned themselves to be freshest in Vesey’s mind as the North Reading native goes about choosing his team. A source who was in the meetings said the Bruins did a “great job.”
So what happens if the Bruins land Vesey, and what happens if they don’t? Netting the Hobey Baker winner would add to something of a crowded left wing group, but it would position the B’s to help their right wing problem by moving someone like Frank Vatrano to the right side.
Outside of a potential Vesey addition, the biggest question with the Bruins’ lines is where to play David Backes. The former Blues captain spent most of his time with St. Louis as a center, but Boston’s depth chart lacks solid options at right wing after the departure of Loui Eriksson.
At least for now, the preference here is to play Backes as a right wing. This is partially because handing him the third-line center job would essentially be a punishment for Ryan Spooner, a young player who does not deserve for his job to be taken away after a mostly solid first full NHL season. Spooner put up 38 points (11 goals, 27 assists) over his first 51 games last season before a second-half slump (11 points in his final 29 games), though he was nagged by a lower-body injury down the stretch. The team should give Spooner the chance to continue to develop into a responsible center, especially since he’ll be due for a new contract after the coming season.
Regardless of his primary position, Backes figures to move around a bit. Assuming he starts off as a right wing, here’s a guess at line configurations for the Bruins, with or without Vesey.
Obviously, the lineup is a little trickier to project if Vesey is not in the mix. These projections have Danton Heinen making the leap to the NHL in his first year as a pro, but the B’s also have forward Austin Czarnik pushing for an NHL job after a strong year in the AHL (61 points in 68 games), Tyler Randell in the mix as a fourth-line right wing option and Seth Griffith still looking to carve out a full-time NHL gig.
|David Backes discusses Bruins contract length, fit with David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Ryan Spooner||07.01.16 at 5:23 pm ET|
The best question on David Backes’ introductory conference call was asked by himself.
Or, at least, it was a question he recalled asking the Bruins as they went about trying to sign the former Blues captain.
“Through the process I was asking questions and didn’t want to pull myself out of being part of the Bruins, but I said, ‘You’ve got Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, who are top-tier center-icemen and are both right-handed,’” Backes said. “’You’re going to bring me in as another right-handed center men. Your top three center men are all going to be right-handed. How’s that going to work?’”
The elephant in the room that follows Backes’ signing is that someone’s either got to go or be used differently. Ryan Spooner is the Bruins’ sole left-shot center, so could Krejci be traded? Could Backes be moved to wing? Backes said that his talks with the B’s prior to signing focused “mostly” on him playing center, but he allowed for the possibility of playing right wing, as he did during the postseason for the Blues.
“If a guy like Spooner can play the third-line center and I move up to the right side with [Brad] Marchand and Bergeron, that gives us a heavy, responsible line that can put a lot of pucks in the net,” Backes said.
“If you want to call me third-line, I completely respect that,” Backes said. “Those two other guys are awesome, but I’ve got to imagine that we’re going to share a lot of responsibility and not burden one guy with all the hard ice or the heavy lifting. When you have responsible guys that can share those roles, then we can all flourish on the other side of the ice and have tons of energy to go out for the ends of games to close it out or score a late big goal.”
The number of right-shot centers presents something of a redundancy. The length of his contract, however, is what is most worrisome. Backes has stayed healthy throughout his career, but one has to wonder who he will hold up in the final two years of his deal.
“I’m 32; I’m not 52,” Backes said. “I think there’s plenty of legs and plenty of physicality and energy left in me. The terms that I’ve come to, people may have questions, but for me, I expect to still be at the top of my game for the last year and still be a contributing member for the Boston Bruins.”
Added Backes: “I don’t think the game’s getting slower. It’s a fast game, but if you start to manage the puck in the right way, you can occupy the offensive zone and do a lot of the things that teams that are heavy and control the puck and occupy the zone do, it’s not a track meet up and down the ice. With Pittsburgh winning the Cup, a team that was kind of designed on that track meet, ‘let’s go, let’s see who can skate the fastest up the ice,’ there may be a trend or a tendency to try to start to build teams like that, but you’ve also seen teams in the LA Kings and the Boston Bruins win playing that heavy game and maybe not having the fastest team, but winning every battle that you get into, being able to control the puck once you get it.”
|Best defense for Bruins down stretch might be strong offense||04.05.16 at 12:58 pm ET|
Even at less than 100 percent, Kevan Miller’s expected return to the Bruins’ lineup Tuesday will help improve the defense from what it was on Sunday. With Dennis Seidenberg still out, the B’s need whatever they can get to avoid the issues they had when trying to defend the Hawks of the first 40 minutes of their final road game.
So with Colin Miller also entering the lineup, it’s natural to wonder whether the youngster’s return is a step in the right direction for the Bruins defensively.
It isn’t, but then again they weren’t going to much better off with Joe Morrow or Zach Trotman in the lineup instead of him. If the younger Miller can bring his skating and offensive ability, it will be worth what he lacks in his own end.
This is because the banged-up Bruins aren’t positioned to defend particularly well one through six. The offense, however, can be a strength after recently bouncing back from its most dormant 10-game period of the season. It might need to be if the Bruins want to avoid missing the postseason for a second straight year.
“The offense is there right now again,” Claude Julien said Tuesday morning. “We just have to tighten up a little bit defensively, which we’ve gone through a couple of times this year. We’ve gotten loose a little bit and then we’ve tightened it up and when we’ve tightened it up we’ve been able to have success, so if we can tighten it up tonight and continue to take advantage of our opportunities to score, that should help our chances quite a bit.”
Coming off a road trip that saw the B’s score 10 goals and allow 11, they will look for similar offense in the season’s final three games while crossing their fingers on the health and play of the defense improving. That might mean some high-scoring games, which are not the type Claude Julien teams have been known for playing.
“I think we can. I don’t think that we want to,” Ryan Spooner said of winning potential track meets. “If you look at our team, just this team as a whole in the past 10 years, they’ve taken a lot of pride in being a good defensive team first. I think if you ask all the guys in the room, they would rather win a game 2-1 or 3-2 than they would 6-5. At this time of the year, you don’t want to get into those run-and-gun matches.” Read the rest of this entry »
|Ryan Spooner, John-Michael Liles won’t play vs. Devils; Loui Eriksson prepares to play center||03.28.16 at 11:13 am ET|
WILMINGTON — Ryan Spooner, John-Michael Liles and Brad Marchand all were absent from Monday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena as the Bruins prepared for Tuesday’s game against the Devils. Neither Spooner nor Liles will travel with the team to New Jersey.
Spooner did not play the third period of Saturday’s game in Toronto due to a lower-body injury that has nagged him for much of the second half of the season. Spooner, who has missed just one game this season, had 40 points in his first 56 games but has seven points in his last 19 games and one point in his last six games.
Liles missed the game altogether as a result of a lower-body injury suffered in last Thursday’s loss to the Panthers. Claude Julien said after Monday’s practice that Liles had skated earlier in the day. Marchand is ill, according to Julien, but will travel to New Jersey.
To this point, the Bruins have not made any recalls. The forward lines in practice looked as such:
While Marchand could be expected to return to his usual spot next to Patrice Bergeron, the most notable change in Boston’s lines Monday was Loui Eriksson playing center, something both Julien and Eriksson intimated was a realistic possibility for Tuesday’s game.
“[A call-up] is not the plan as we speak,” Julien said. “You saw Loui at center. Loui’s very capable of doing that and we’ll see where we go from there.”
Eriksson played center for one shift Saturday and said that he played a little center back when he played for the Stars. Eriksson is best known as a versatile left-shot wing who plays both sides and is strong in his own zone. On the season, Eriksson has won eight of the 15 faceoffs he’s taken.
“Obviously faceoffs, you have to be the guy that comes home and plays in the defensive zone,” Eriksson said. “It’s a little bit different. It’s probably going to take a few shifts to get used to, but I’ve played it before and hopefully I can do something good with it.”
|3rd-place Bruins say they’ve ‘surprised,’ ‘proved people wrong’||01.27.16 at 2:15 am ET|
The Bruins’ final game before the All-Star break didn’t go their way, a 6-2 loss to Anaheim that dropped the B’s home record to a lousy 11-13-2.
However, the players in the Boston dressing room seemed content with their lot in life as they packed up for a week’s furlough, a 26-18-5 season mark in tow that was holding them third place in the Atlantic Division with 33 games remaining on the season.
“We’ve surprised a lot of people,” said defenseman Torey Krug. “We’re not surprised in here where we [are]. We had a goal to be in the top three [of our division] before the All-Star break and we’re sitting right there.”
“At the beginning of the year there were a lot of people that probably thought that we wouldn’t be in the playoffs,” echoed forward Ryan Spooner. “You kind of heard that stuff, and that we would be a younger team. But we’ve shown that we can play with the top teams. We’ve proved a lot of people wrong and we just have to keep that up.”
The Bruins have indeed exceeded many preseason prognostications to this point. The team’s 21-10-2 record against the Eastern Conference shines bright, as does its 12-6-1 mark within the division. The latter includes a 4-0 performance against the two teams ahead of Boston in the Atlantic (Florida and Detroit).
That said, despite winning five of their last seven games, players also are willing to admit that their current playoff perch is a tenuous one.
|Ryan Spooner for Chris Stewart the best trade Bruins never made||01.26.16 at 1:00 pm ET|
Chris Stewart’s job seemed simple enough last season: Play and try to put up points until you get traded to the Bruins.
With Boston missing a big, tough right wing following the departure of Jarome Iginla, it became common knowledge that then-Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli was keen on Stewart, a young former first-round pick of the Avalanche who was playing on a Sabres team that was sure to sell. Stewart expressed an interest in such a scenario unfolding, telling WEEI.com in December of last season that he felt he would be a good fit on the Bruins.
“You try not to buy into stuff, but usually when there’s smoke there’s fire,” the now-Ducks forward said Tuesday of being linked to the Bruins. “That was probably the most predominant team that I was hearing about all year. I’m not too sure what happened [that I didn’t get traded to Boston].”
Here’s what happened: Despite the Bruins and Sabres discussing Stewart throughout the season, no deal was ever struck and the Bruins eventually moved on to then-Lightning forward Brett Connolly.
The Bruins not acquiring Stewart was certainly not for lack of trying, however. According to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, Chiarelli offered the Sabres a second-round pick and center Ryan Spooner for Stewart in October of last season, only to have the offer rejected.
In hindsight, that would have gone down as one of the worst deals of Chiarelli’s tenure as Bruins general manager. Stewart had a modest campaign (11 goals, 14 assists) with the Sabres and was made a healthy scratch at points of a 61-game stretch, diminishing his value and eventually leading the Sabres to send him to the Wild for a 2017 second-round pick at the trade deadline. Buffalo had to retain half of Stewart’s $4.15 million cap hit in order to secure a future second-rounder, far less than what Chiarelli had offered months earlier.
While the Bruins used the second-rounder towards acquiring Connolly, who has struggled with goal-scoring but has as many goals as Stewart (seven) this season at a smaller price tag, the most obvious reason why that trade would have been a disaster is Spooner.
Both last season and this season, Spooner has been far more of an impact player than Stewart, who is five years older than Spooner and had unrestricted free agent status awaiting last season. In 24 games following his Feb. 22 midseason debut, Spooner had eight goals and 10 assists for 18 points. Stewart performed well between Buffalo and Minnesota during that stretch, though his five goals and nine assists for 14 points in 24 games fell short of Spooner’s totals.
This season, Spooner’s taken a major leap forward, as he has 10 goals and a team-leading 26 assists for 36 points. Even better for the Bruins is the fact that because he’s on just his second contract and didn’t have enough of an NHL track record to warrant bigger money at the time of signing, he carries a cap hit of $950,000 for the next two seasons, after which the Bruins will still hold his rights as a restricted free agent.
After playing 20 regular-season games and eight playoff games for the Wild, Stewart took a one-year, $1.7 million deal with the Ducks. Playing mostly as a third-liner, Stewart has seven goals and six assists for 13 points in 40 games for Anaheim. Given that the Ducks are his fourth team in as many seasons, he hopes that he can stay with the team for a long time.
At the very least, he has better job security on a team pushing for a playoff spot than he did last season with the Sabres. Because Buffalo was in full-tank mode for Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, the latter of whom they eventually got, Stewart knew all along that he had a better chance of finishing the season in Boston — or anywhere else — than in Buffalo.
“The biggest part of it was they were so open about the rebuild, that everyone who was on the last year of their contract knew they were getting traded,” Stewart said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that before. There were probably about a good seven or eight guys who were all in the same boat.”
In the end, the Spooner-and-a-second-for-Stewart deal not happening has been a win for everyone but the Sabres. Stewart has been able to move on with his career, while the Bruins avoided giving away a big piece of their future for a rental.
|Ryan Spooner, Joonas Kemppainen, Brett Connolly jell quickly, create chances in Bruins’ win over Maple Leafs||11.21.15 at 11:50 pm ET|
A quick look at Saturday night’s box score wouldn’t reveal anything notable about the Bruins’ third line. Ryan Spooner, Joonas Kemppainen and Brett Connolly didn’t score. None of them played more than Spooner’s 14:40. They combined for four shots on goal, which is fine but certainly not something that jumps out at you.
But Saturday night was a notable game for that trio. They played really well together, even if it didn’t show up in the box score. They had a lot of puck possession and created some of the Bruins’ best scoring chances in a game that didn’t have many of them.
And to be honest, that was a little surprising. Spooner, Kemppainen and Connolly had spent hardly any time together before Saturday, yet they appeared to have pretty good chemistry. Spooner had played the wing only in spurts before Saturday, yet he looked comfortable there and made things happen from the left side. Kemppainen hadn’t exactly been lighting the world on fire on the fourth line, yet he didn’t look out of place at all in a top-nine role.
“I think most of the game we played pretty well together,” Spooner said. “We talked a lot before the game and just said, ‘If we don’t have much, just try to get the puck in deep.’ We did that. And I think off the rush, we had a couple chances too. I thought it went well for sure.”
Spooner, Kemppainen and Connolly all entered Saturday as negative possession players in terms of both regular Corsi and relative Corsi. You wouldn’t have been able to guess that watching Saturday night’s game against Toronto, though. They were the Bruins’ top three players in terms of Corsi-for percentage, with all three finishing the night at 69 percent or better.
They combined for one fewer shot attempt than Patrice Bergeron‘s line and three more than David Krejci‘s line, despite getting significantly less ice time. They also created a couple good chances that didn’t even count as shot attempts — a Kemppainen centering pass just missed a charging Spooner early in the first period, and a Spooner feed for a charging Connolly did the same midway through the third.
On the latter chance, Spooner’s speed down the wing was clearly a factor, something Claude Julien was happy to point out after the game.
“I think Spoons has really done a good job on the left wing there, adapting to it and using his speed,” Julien said. “A lot more involved in the last two games, and that’s what we need out of Ryan. And that’s a sign of a young player really who’s getting it. He wants to be better, so kudos to him.”
Spooner said after the game that he’s still not completely comfortable on the wing — he said he’s probably played wing fewer than 20 times in his life — but he also noted that having fewer defensive responsibilities helped, as he admitted that his defense as a center hasn’t always been great. Kemppainen helps in that respect, as he is pretty responsible defensively. And Kemppainen clearly benefited from playing with faster, more skilled players.
Whether Spooner, Kemppainen and Connolly stay together remains to be seen. Frank Vatrano is expected back soon, perhaps as early as Monday, so expect more line-juggling to make room for him. But even if they don’t stay together for now, it’s nice for Julien to know that he has this as a bottom-six option that can be effective in the future.