Bruins have NHL on the defensive

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Bruins have NHL on the defensive

BOSTON -- Pekka Rinne finished second to Tim Thomas in the Vezina Trophy voting last year by a healthy margin despite an amazing season for the Nashville Predators.

But the Preds' puck-stopper did surpass the Bruins goaltender in one pretty significant category -- and probably the one area that playersuse as their ultimate scoreboard--when he signed a seven-year, 49 million contract with Nashvilleon Thursday afternoon.

Rinne is in the same elite goaltender class as Thomas and even finished ahead of Thomas in the Hart Trophy voting last year. Hes a 29-year-old goalie entering his prime in a positional category where most players dont truly find greatness until after their 30th birthday. Hell also be the highest-paid goalie in the NHL beginning next season when his 7 million-a-year contract kicks into gear in Music City.

So much of the game of hockey revolves around the goaltending position, said Nashville GM David Poile during the conference call to announce Rinnes signing. So many of us believe that you build a hockey team from the goaltender on out. In our estimation weve signed the best goaltender in the NHL, and he gives us the best opportunity moving forward to backstop the Predators in their quest to win the Stanley Cup.

All that being said, the former Nashville eighth-round pick has just one playoff series victory under his belt and has a tremendous amount left to prove along with his Preds' teammates.

How does this all involve the Bruins?

Theres no denying Rinnes big-bucks deal became an easier sell for an executive like Poile after watching the cheap route on goaltending go belly up around the leagueafter it was in vogue only a year or two ago. Instead it is the combination ofsuperb goaltending fromThomas along with a hearty defense and hard-working offense that have become the successful template after Boston's run to the Cup.

Everybody pointed to the successful goalie duo of Jimmy Howard and Chris Osgood with the Detroit Red Wings as the successful model for teams looking to simply load up on quality forwards and defensemen in front of the goaltenders. Philadelphia infamously tried to go with the goaltender-by-committee route last season, with disastrous results that ended with a blown apart roster.

Things are now trending in the opposite direction after Tim Thomas carried the Bruins to a Stanley Cup championship last season. Goaltending has always been important at the NHL level, but last year proved that elite goaltending can be the biggest game-changer during the postseason.

That seems to be message going around the league after the Flyers (Ilya Bryzgalov) and Predators (Linne) locked up their goalies to long-term, big-money contracts. An elite goaltender and a decent defensive system all but guarantee that a team will consistently be in the hunt for a playoff berth, and the myth of the hot goaltender in the playoffs was once again proven true with each diving, flopping little piece of goaltending magnificence Thomas authored during his brilliant postseason run.

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli realized that before anyone.

Rinnes contract pushes Thomas 5 million-per-season pact down to the 11th-highest salary cap figure for a goalie, and certifies just how valuable Bostons franchise goaltender has become since he signed his deal three years ago.

Just little more than a year ago, Chiarelli was harangued from seemingly all corners of the hockey world for handing an aging goaltender in Thomas such a deal. The Bruins were having salary cap issues, and many called for Chiarelli to deal Thomas.

But Chiarelli wisely held on to Thomas through his hip struggles after receiving only middling offers for him two summers ago, and then reaped the full benefits when Thomas won the Vezina, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup while putting together one of the best seasons in the modern era of goaltending. The tight cap situation, meanwhile, was eventually settled when Marc Savard was lost to a concussion and Marco Sturm was traded away for a bag full of nothing.

So those who argued it was a troublesome contract for the Bruins and, yes, I am raising my hand while I type this away on my keyboard now have to admit that Chiarelli and the Bruins got good, old-fashioned value for Thomas.

Its become even better with a motley goaltending crew of Rinne, Bryzgalov, Henrik Lundqvist, Cam Ward, Ryan Miller, Niklas Backstrom, Miikka Kiprusoff, Cristobal Huet, Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur all earning more money than what the best goaltender in the world will bank.

The Rinne deal could also set fellow Finnish countrymen Tuukka Rask off wondering just how much he could earn if he were dealt to another team.

But thats a story for another day.

This weeks story is about a goaltender entering his prime in Nashville that just signed a lucrative new deal, and about a 37-year-old puck-stopping war horse in Boston who's become the hot new trend in an NHL world where everybody wants to be like the champs.

Vatrano takes 'step in the right direction' in return to practice

Vatrano takes 'step in the right direction' in return to practice

BRIGHTON, Mass -- The Bruins lost Matt Beleskey for six weeks to a knee injury this week, and now they’re hoping to get another winger back now that 22-year-old Frank Vatrano has rejoined the Bruins at practice.

Vatrano was wearing a red no-contact jersey at Tuesday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena, but his presence along with the other players at the team skate means that he’s moving closer toward a return to the B’s lineup. While initial timetables for his recovery from foot surgery had him in the early January range for returning to the Bruins lineup, it appears that he might be at least a couple of weeks ahead of that initial expectation.

Either way Vatrano is happy to be back on the ice with his teammates after the torn ligaments in his foot wiped out his training camp and the first two plus months of the regular season for him.

“It was a big step for me today. It was nice to be out there with the guys for the first time,” said Vatrano, who scored a combined 44 goals last season for Providence and Boston in a breakout season with the B’s organization. “I’ve gone through the rehab and done everything I need to do to get back playing, so now the next step is getting back on the ice with the guys. I felt great, so now it’s just waiting to hear the news when I start playing again.”

While Vatrano is still a young, relatively inexperienced player with just one full year of pro hockey under his belt, the sense from the Bruins is that he’s going to help a team that’s currently ranked 25th in the NHL in offense. Claude Julien was encouraged by seeing him out there in the red, no-contact jersey that his teammates were chirping him about, and said that his level play at last spring’s world championships should give him confidence when he jumps back into a big role with the Black and Gold.

“It’s a step in the right direction for Frank. That’s the best way for him to get to the pace of our game because it’s going to take a while when you’ve been out that long,” said Vatrano. “I think his experience at world championships last year is a real blessing in disguise because he gained a lot of confidence there. I think that’s going to help him a lot more than had he not gone.

“He played against a lot of elite players last year, and he fared really well. I think he’ll be coming in now with some confidence, and we just have to sure coming in that we give him every opportunity to succeed by using him properly, and giving him a chance to find his game.”

That certainly sounds like the Bruins are preparing for a top-6 role and maybe some power play time once the young, sharp-shooting Vatrano is back up to full speed. That should be fun to watch once he’s ready to play, and ready to again unleash that shot and release that rivals anybody else for tops on the Bruins roster. 

Spooner on trade rumors: 'I definitely want to play here'

Spooner on trade rumors: 'I definitely want to play here'

BOSTON -- Ryan Spooner has definitely heard the reports out there that he’s being shopped in trade by the Boston Bruins, and he played like a guy that didn’t want to be moved in Monday’s win over the Florida Panthers at TD Garden.

Spooner had his good skating legs, created chances for his teammates and set up the third period goal that got the B’s into overtime when he flipped a shot at the net that was tipped in by David Backes while camped out around the crease. Spooner finished with an assist and a plus-1 rating along with five shot attempts in his 14:24 of ice time, and looked much more like the energized, creative player that was at the heart of some pretty good offensive things last season.

In other words, Spooner looked much more like the talented young player that finished with 13 goals and 49 points last season while centering the third line.

“I think there were five or six games there where I felt I wasn’t playing a bad game. Then six or seven games there where it was hard to get, I guess, the ice time that I wanted,” said Spooner. “At the end of the day, I’ve been a little bit inconsistent.

“I just have to go out there and use my speed and my skill and I found that in the game here. I thought that I did that and I just need to play with that, and I should be fine.”

Multiple sources have indicated to CSN New England that the Bruins are talking about a possible Ryan Spooner deal with multiple teams including the Carolina Hurricanes, San Jose Sharks and New York Islanders. Part of it is certainly the need for the Bruins to collect a bit more goal-scoring as Monday night’s win was just the eighth time in 26 games this season that Boston’s offense has scored more than two goals.

Part of it is also, however, a challenging season for Spooner where he’s been in and out of Claude Julien’s dog house while getting dropped to the fourth line at times, and even being left off the power play a handful of times as well. He’s played out of position at left wing rather than center and has underachieved to three goals and nine points in 25 games largely played with David Krejci and David Backes.

Whatever the history and the number of potential trade scenarios, Spooner said was “fed up” with all of it in his own words as he headed into Monday night’s game, and one thing remained true above all else: He wants to stick around as a member of the Bruins.

“I try to just put it in the back of my mind. When I was 17, I went through the same thing [in junior hockey]. I definitely want to play here,” said Spooner. “I want to help out and that’s kind of where I’m at now. If I play like I did [against the Panthers], I think I’ll be fine. I just want to go out, I want to help out, and that’s kind of where I’m at right now.”

The Black and Gold are looking for a top-6 forward capable of putting the puck in the net on the trade market in any possible deal involving Spooner, but it would seem that the 23-year can control his own destiny in Boston if he starts generating offense and putting the puck in the net. Spooner did just that on Monday night while setting up a third period goal, and lo and behold the Bruins offense posted four goals after struggling to get more than two for most of the season.

That could turn into the kind of trend that keeps Spooner in Boston if he knocks out the inconsistency in his game, and instead steps on the gas pedal and brings the speed and skill that got him to the NHL in the first place.