WILMINGTON, Mass. Cracking the Boston Bruinsopening night roster was a dream come true for Chris Bourque, but now comes thehard part. The 26-year-old Bourque has enjoyed the best NHL shot of his prohockey career in Bostonthus far, and its been impossible to take the smile from his face. But the Bruins forward isnt simply along for the ride, andhe's looking to stretch his playmaking muscles in order to showcase hisoffensive abilities. That hasnt happened through the first three games while averaging13 minutes of ice time per game. Hes been held scoreless with only a singleshot on net in three games along with a minus-2 rating while skating with RichPeverley and Chris Kelly. The oldest son of Hall of Famer Ray Bourque has beenflirting with putting up offensive numbers, of course. Bourque missed high with an empty netgoal in last weekends home opener against the Rangers and was on the ice withthe second PP unit when Dougie Hamilton and Brad Marchand finally broke throughin last nights 4-3 overtime loss. Thats a far cry from the player that led the entire AHLwith 93 points last season, however, and Bourque is looking to tap into thoseabilities now that hes getting comfortable in his new surroundings. Part of it is confidence, part of it is feeling the need toprove some things to his new teammates and part of it is simply walking theline between being a physical third-line two-way player and a skill guy looking up theice to make plays. Im getting pretty comfortable. Maybe Im keeping it alittle too simple, said Bourque, who has averaged 3:11 of power play ice timein the Bs first three games this season. Im trying to find my way. Ive feltbetter game by game, but obviously they want me to make offensive plays outthere. Ive been focusing defense first for the most part. But I also think theoffense will come after getting the nerves out in the first few games at home.Claude Julien said he sees a player in Bourque that hasntyet felt that level of confidence at the NHL level that hes shown as a topscorer in the American Hockey League. But the Bruins coaching staff remainsfully confident that Bourque will find his rhythm, and theyre still puttinghim out with Bostonssecond power play unit as they start to gel as a group. I just think right now that hes trying to feel his waythrough . . . period, said Julien. We know he can make plays. Weve seen it beforethat when he moves his feet things can happen. As a coaching staff we know whatweve seen from him in Providenceand you give him an opportunity to feel his way through a little bit. Everybody gets nervous sometimes when theyre with a newteam and everybody adjusts differently. But hes got such good vision, skilland he can shoot the puck. Those are assets for him and you hope something goodcan happen for him to build that confidence.All that being said Bourque saw three shifts for a grandtotal of 1:30 in the third period of last nights grudge match against theRangers. Hes been routinely replaced by Daniel Paille on the third line whenJulien is looking for a little more defenseexperience, and that can make it alittle challenging. Its a challenging spot to be in for a player anxious tomake an impact after passing through the Capitals and Penguins organizations,but theres also a pretty simple answer for Bourque. At every level, hes been an offensive player with the confidence that there are plays are all over the iceto be made. He needs to find that again in what is likely the best chance he'll ever get to carve out an NHL job for himself.
JAMAICA PLAIN – Newest Bruins forward David Backes has heard the trepidation from Bruins fans about the five-year term of his contract, and he’s probably also caught wind of St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong stating publicly that contract length was an area he was uncomfortable getting to on a theoretical extension with his outbound.
The prevailing wisdom is that the decade of rugged, physical play from the 32-year-old in St. Louis will cause him to start slowing down sooner rather than later, and the last couple of seasons won’t be as high quality as the first couple in Boston.
So what does the actual player think about any questions surrounding his five year, $30 million contract?
The 6-foot-3, 221-pound Backes confidently said that concerns about his age, or him slowing down demonstrably in the last few years of his new contract, are “a bunch of malarkey” to borrow a favorite phrase from Vice President Joe Biden.
“I’m 32, not 52. Time will tell, but I feel really good and I take care of my body. I lay it all on the line, but when I’m not at the rink I’m resting and recovering for the next time I have to pour it all into a game,” said Backes, who logged 727 hard-hitting games all with the St. Louis Blues organization over the last 10 seasons. “Time will be the judge, but I feel like [after] five years I’ll even have a couple more [seasons] after that.
“I don’t think this is going to be end. That’s my plan. I’m still going to get better over the next five years, and hopefully have a couple of opportunities to hoist that big trophy I’ve been chasing around for the last 10 years.”
One area of concern from last season: the 21 goals and 45 points in 79 games for the Blues were Backes’ lowest totals over a full season since his first few years in the league. It might be the first signs of decline in a player that’s logged some heavy miles, or it could be a simple down season for a player that’s always focused on setting the physical tone, and defense, just as much as his offensive output at the other end of the ice.
As Backes himself said, “time will be judge” of just how well the five year contract turns out for a natural leader that will undoubtedly give the Bruins a boost as a hard-nosed, top-6 forward as he moves into the Boston phase of his NHL career.
Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading after a pretty amazing, on-point succession of speeches by Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg and Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention last night. It was quite a contrast to the absolute circus sideshow that went on in Cleveland last week.
*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Greg Wyshynksi chronicles the Jimmy Vesey Sweepstakes, and the late entry of the Chicago Blackhawks as a suitor. Wysh still feels, as I do, that the Bruins end up getting this talented player at the end of the day.
*The details of the charges levied against Evander Kane paint an ugly picture of a hockey player doing a lot of the wrong things.
*PHT writer Mike Halford says that the Carolina Hurricanes might be ready to snap their playoff drought after extending head coach Bill Peters.
*John Tavares tells the Toronto media not to count on him ever pulling over a Maple Leafs jersey amid post-Stamkos speculation.
*The Edmonton Oilers say they will have a new captain in place by opening night, and it will be interesting to see if they go the Connor McDavid route.
*Brian Elliott is thrilled at the opportunity to be “the man” between the pipes for the Calgary Flames this season after splitting time in St. Louis.
*For something completely different: a great feature on Howard Stern, and his transformation from shock jock to master interviewer.
Joe Haggerty can be followed on Twitter: @HacksWithHaggs
JAMAICA PLAIN -- For those excited about the idea of an intense, hard-hitting David Backes in a Bruins uniform for the next five years, you have Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand to partially thank.
Backes, 32, didn’t know either of them all that well prior to this summer, aside from his experiences on ice against them. But Bergeron and Marchand called Backes multiple times while recruiting him to Boston, and it was a major factor in the former Blues captain signing a five-year, $30 million deal with the B's.
“Being an outsider, we need to have a little bit of confession here that Marchand is the kind of guy that gets under everybody’s skin. I was no different,” said the 6-foot-3, 221-pound Backes, who has 206 goals and 460 points in 727 career NHL games, all with St. Louis. “But then talking to him a little bit in the interview process prior to July 1, I hung up the phone and had to take a deep breath and say to myself, ‘That little disturber, he’s actually a pretty good guy.’ Those guys end up being the best teammates.
“A guy like Bergeron, when you play against him [he's] always in the right spot, and is never making mistakes. Those types of guys, again, are guys you want on your team, and guys you want to go to war with. They’re All-World players, Bergeron is an All-World player. But he’s also a down-to-earth guy that puts his work boots on, takes his lunch pail and plays his butt off. He’s nice to the young kids, and he’s nurturing in helping them come along. I think you’ve seen in the NHL that you need a few guys on entry-level deals, or a few guys to outperform their contracts, in order to have success in the salary-cap era. That nurturing and mentorship can really foster those kinds of performances.”
While Backes went on to mention Zdeno Chara as another highly respected, formidable opponent with whom he’ll now share a dressing room, it was interesting to note that players who currently have letters on their sweaters, like Chara and David Krejci, didn’t play a part in the recruiting process. Instead it was the next captain of the team (Bergeron) and a player (Marchand) currently in the middle of negotiations entering the last year of his contract.
“I talked to both Bergeron and Marchand twice before July 1," said Backes. "Just the way that they spoke about their team mentality, and teaming up together and sharing the load of hard minutes that need to be played, and also sharing the load of the offensive necessities that a team has . . . those things just rang true to my beliefs of a team.
“You’re all equals whether you’re the top-paid guy, or the top-minute guy, or the low-minute guy, or the guy that’s playing every other game because you’re the healthy scratch in the other games.
“We all needed to be treated equal, and do whatever we can to support the next guy. When the next guy has success, we have to be just as happy as if we scored the goal. That’s the type of thing where, when you get that from the full 20 guys on the ice, it’s so tough to be beat. Those are the teams that win championships.”
It will be interesting to see just how much involvement Backes has with the Bergeron and Marchand combination. He could very easily be a right-wing fit with those two dynamic forwards next season, or he could be a third-line center behind Bergeron and Krejci and give the Bruins elite depth down the middle of the ice.
True to his team-oriented nature, Backes said he’ll be happy to play at either position and do whatever Claude Julien feels is best.