Bruins power play fix start with the letter 'D'

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Bruins power play fix start with the letter 'D'

The good news from Wednesday night is that when the Bruins needed a jolt, Claude Julian went gambling.

Before the 3rd period, he threw caution to the wind and broke up his long established top line of Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic and David Krejci on the fly. Claude grouped a slumping Tyler Seguin with Lucic and Krejci to spark a Bruins team that was struggling to create scoring chances. Juliens roster alchemy turned leaden legs to gold almost instantly as the aforementioned combination scored two quick tallies to lead the Bruins to a 2-1 win over the Habs in Montreal.

The bad news is the Bruins power-play is still sloppier than a Lena Dunham nude scene. Given the talent on this roster, even with the recent injuries, it shouldn't be a yearly crisis.
Luckily, this season, the answer to their man advantage woes are right under their nose and its not giving Chris Bourque and the High Glass line more minutes.

If Claude has the guts to put his best three forwards together to kick start the offense, he should have no issues rolling the dice by letting his best two defenseman direct the power play.

Zdeno Chara and Dougie Hamilton are the key elements to turning around the Bruins man disadvantage, and they will be using a formula that is proven to work and easy to replicate.
Last year, who had the best power play in the NHL? Here is a hint; it wasn't the Penguins, Flyers or Canucks. It was the Nashville Predators.

They had a PP of 21.6, tops in the NHL. How can this be, given that Nashville had nobody in the top 50 in points scored last year, didnt have a 30-goal scorer, and that Nashville coach, Barry Trotz, looks like he just walked under a pile driver?

The answer is Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. Last year Nashville had 54 total Power Play goals. Shea Weber was on the ice for 47 of those 54 and Suter was on the ice for 45 of them. With Weber's cannon and Suter's passing skills anchoring their power play, they took a group of forwards Trotz would be hard pressed to make (bleep) salad with, let alone a version with chicken, and turned them into man advantage assassins.

Patric Hornqvist 27 goals, 8 on the power play

Craig Smith 14 goals, 6 on the power play

Mike Fisher 24 goals, 5 on the power play

Colin Wilson 15 goals, 5 on the power play

David Legwand 19 goals, 5 on the power play

Martain Erat 19 goals, 5 on the power play

None of those players finished with over 60 points. Guys like Smith and Wilson couldn't even crack 40 points but on the PP they were just as deadly as Seguin, Bergeron and Marchand (all 5 PP goals) were last season and more than doubled the goals scored by a 60-point player like David Krejci (2 PP goals).

Barry Trotz doesnt look like he works in a think tank. He isnt a hockey genius and certainly isnt an offensive guru. But he is pragmatic enough to know he had a defensive team with no elite scorers. So he maximized his teams talent on the PP by keeping Weber and Suter, his two best players, out there as much as possible, to lift the play of his forwards. The results spoke for themselves.

The Bruins can replicate the simple success of last years Predators buy letting Chara and Hamilton run the power play.

Chara has every bit the bomb from the point that Weber does. Last season he had 8 power play goals, only two fewer than Weber, on a team that suffered from an inconsistent man advantage all season. With someone like Suter setting his plate, Z would be a terror weapon and the Bruins might actually have someone better.

Hamilton was a deadly PP Quarterback in juniors. He had 55 assists last season, 30 of which came on the man advantage, which lead the OHL. Hamilton also has a great shot, arguably one superior to Suters. He had 17 goals last season and nine came on the PP. He's the anti Kaberle; a point man who's a gifted passer with a shot that has to be respected. Simply put, Hamilton could be the best person to run the Bruins Power Play since Marc Savard was healthy.

Give those two the ice time to generate chemistry and mix in a better group of forwards than Nasville and this power play should no longer be a liability that makes Bruins fans wish they could decline penalties. Chara and Hamilton setting up Seguin, Lucic, Horton, Marchand, Krejci and Bergeron will finally fix a problem that's stretched multiple seasons.

The only question is will Claude let it? Chara is already leading the team in Power Play Time On Ice but he may need to stay out there longer. Right now Hamilton is 7th on the team in PP TOI. That will have to increase dramatically because he going to be joined with Chara at the hip.

Krejci is currently 2nd in PP TOI. Give Hamilton Krejci's PP minutes and let him and Chara develop into an elite power-play combination. If that means that Seidenberg, Boychuck, Ference and McQuaid need to pick up more even strength ice time then so be it because this team is not going to win another Stanley with a power play that works less than Windows 8.

Claude, who to his credit, is already way more trusting of Hamilton than he was with Seguin at this stage of his career. Now he needs to reward that trust with the responsibility to run the power play.

Dougie and Z have what it takes to make the power play work and after last night, Claude might actually take a chance and let them fix it.

GAHS Podcast: Felger 'fearful' of where Bruins are headed

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GAHS Podcast: Felger 'fearful' of where Bruins are headed

In an all-CSN edition in the 15th episode of the Great American Hockey Show Podcast as co-hosts Joe Haggerty and Jimmy Murphy welcomed SportsNet Central anchor Mike Giardi to discuss the current B’s situation and conducted a wide-ranging interview with Sports Tonight host and Felger and Mazz co-host Michael Felger about his time covering the Bruins as a beat reporter, where he developed his love for hockey and his pathway toward becoming the most influential figure in the Boston sports media scene.

Perhaps most interesting from Giardi’s segment was his take that “nobody should be untouchable” on the Bruins roster, that includes franchise player and future captain Patrice Bergeron, if the return is good enough. Felger discussed who he’d move between Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask to change up the Bruins roster this summer and how gravely concerned he is about the health and well-being of the franchise coming off two seasons out of the playoffs.

“I’m fearful, of course. I think the passion of the Bruins fan base is still there. We could do four hours on the radio tomorrow talking about the Bruins, and totally bang it out with callers,” said Felger. “So the Bruins are so lucky that the fans are that passionate. But if it’s too long of a drought, we all lived through 2005 and 2006 coming out of the lockout. It was dark, and we have the capacity to go back there.”

For the full Great American Hockey Show podcast check it out below: 

No defense for blue-line shortcomings

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No defense for blue-line shortcomings

This is the fourth in a five-part series about the breakdowns that doomed the team this season, and what must change for the Black and Gold to once again get moving in the right direction. 

The Bruins had a master plan to upgrade the defense last summer. It quickly morphed into a dumpster fire.

After ultimately deciding they were unwilling to pay Dougie Hamilton an outlandish sum of money -- and coming to the conclusion that the young D-man simply didn’t want to play for Boston anymore -- they dealt him to the Calgary Flames for three draft picks. It was pennies-on-the-dollar value for a young, top-pairing defenseman, and a fear-based move given the threat of offer sheets that possibly loomed if Hamilton made it past July 1 without a new contract extension.

(They also torpedoed a better draft-pick package offer from their ex-general manager, Peter Chiarelli, by demanding Edmonton's young stud D-man Darnell Nurse, but that’s neither here nor there.)

The Bruins made the decision to move Hamilton after he and his camp ignored Boston’s multiple contract overtures. It was also apparent to those running the team that players like Hamilton and Reilly Smith weren’t meshing well with the rest of the Bruins core. 

(There's no second-guessing from this humble hockey writer about the jettisoning of Smith, despite his solid 25-goal season with the Florida Panthers: he was a soft player in that last year with Boston. The part of that move that should be regretted was immediately signing Jimmy Hayes to a three-year contract extension after closing the Smith-for-Hayes deal. But, again, that's neither here nor there.)

The problem for the Bruins after trading Hamilton was in the follow-through.

First they followed Chiarelli's troubling pattern of overpaying mid-level talent by handing Adam McQuaid a four-year, $11 million extension. Then they were unsuccessful in their attempts to move up in the first round of last summer’s draft and take either of the two collegians, Noah Hanifin or Zach Werenski, who projected as eventual No. 1 defensemen. They offered Hamilton and first-round draft choices; they also tried to use Martin Jones as a chip.

But whether new GM Don Sweeney thought he had a deal in place or not, things fell apart at the 11th hour. The Bruins did have three first-round picks, but they were in the middle of the round. In that position, they were unable to get an immediate difference-maker on defense.

The inability to land that young D-man (and potential heir apparent to Zdeno Chara) at last summer’s draft, or at the NHL trade deadline in February, ended up being a fatal blow. There was too much stress on a patchwork defense corps, and it was a major factor in the Bruins missing the playoffs. And even if they'd made it, the B's would have been nothing more than first-round cannon fodder.

The Band-Aid trade for 35-year-old John-Michael Liles was a nominal improvement at the deadline, but it spoke to just how badly they needed puck-moving reinforcements to assist a clearly overworked Torey Krug.

“I can tell you [Sweeney] worked extremely hard to try to move up (in the first round)," said Bruins president Cam Neely at his end-of-the-season press conference. "The scouting staff did a good job of identifying [players], and obviously, if you look back at the draft . . . you kind of had to be (in one of the top spots) to get one of those [defensemen] that were highly coveted. [Sweeney] just couldn’t do it last offseason. [He also] tried throughout the year to make something happen and he’s maybe laid some groundwork (for a future trade) . . . Hopefully [he'll] be able to get something done in the offseason.

"But like I said earlier, we know it’s an area that we need to improve upon . . . [We] know what our back end is all about. We need to . . . really improve that area of our team . . . [It's] something that I know [Sweeney's] going to be very focused on.”

Fast-forward to the present day. The Bruins finished the season with the aging, declining Chara, now 39, as their No. 1 defenseman, and the 5-foot-8 Krug as their No. 2 while posting a career-high 21:37 of ice time per game. The diminutive Krug perhaps paid the price for that wear and tear with right shoulder surgery last month that could sideline him until late October, which raises red flags about whether he should again play those kinds of heavy-duty minutes given his offensive value.

Beyond those two, the Bruins’ defensive prospects aren’t bright. The body of 35-year-old Dennis Seidenberg is breaking down, and the B's would love to be out from under the final two years (at $4 million per) of his contract. Both McQuaid and Kevan Miller are limited, stay-at-home defensemen better cast as bottom-pair guys. Youngsters Colin Miller, Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow weren’t able to lock down roles last season for a multitude of reasons. Miller is the only one who appears to have potential to develop into a top-four NHL defenseman; Trotman and Morrow seem poised to be passed by other young D-men (Brandon Carlo, Robbie O’Gara, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon) in the organizational ranks sooner rather than later.

Botton line: It simply doesn’t feel like the Bruins have the answer to their defense woes, at least in the short term, within their system.

They need a No. 1 defenseman in the prime of his career, or being groomed into that prime, who can ideally allow the Bruins coaching staff to start easing up on Chara's ice time. Chara is a No. 1 in name only these days, and would be much better served as a middle-pairing D-man playing closer to 20 minutes a night and removed from the power play, where he no longer features his booming slap shot very much.

It’s an fact that nearly every team that’s won the Stanley Cup since the 2004-05 lockout has had a prime No. 1 defenseman in the 25-33 age range, with the exceptions of the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes and 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins. Names like Chara, Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Nik Lidstrom, Duncan Keith and Drew Doughty figured prominently in those championships, playing 30 minutes a night during the brutal two-month run to the Cup.

The Bruins don’t have that type of guy right now, and they aren’t anywhere close to competing for a Cup until they get one.

So how do you get one?

Sweeney and his management team are already deeply involved in that process, and that’s where names like Jacob Trouba, Sami Vatanen and Matthew Dumba will figure prominently in trade discussions this summer. But those types of players are costly, both in terms what will be needed to be surrendered to acquire them -- trade partners will undoubtedly ask for such talent as David Pastrnak, Frank Vatrano and Ryan Spooner -- and in what they'll be seeking in new contracts, since those demands are what's pushing them into the trade market to begin with.

Ultimately, there’s no guarantee that Sweeney and Co. will close the deal for any of these defensemen, given how hard it is to acquire young talent in trades in the NHL. There's also no guarantee the Bruins will target the right guy in a blockbuster trade, seeing how their scouting staff has whiffed on players like Hayes, Zac Rinaldo and Brett Connolly in recent years.  

The Bruins can hope their amateur scouting and development group can unearth a gem. After all, the Blackhawks probably didn’t know they had a future Conn Smythe winner in Keith when they selected him 54th overall in the 2002 draft. The Penguins got a diamond in Kris Letang with the 62nd overall pick in 2005 NHL. The Bruins, too, struck gold when they acquired Johnny Boychuk from the Colorado Avalanche in a deal for energy forward Matt Hendricks. Within a few years, Boychuk developed into a top-pairing stud on a Stanley Cup championship team. 

So perhaps one of the young prospects currently in the Bruins system is the ultimate answer as an eventual replacement for Chara.

But that’s something tough to count on, especially since -- even if it happens -- it's unlikely to happen in time to provide help next season. Sweeney and Neely need to pull off something in the epic-acquisition category this summer, whether it’s a deal for Kevin Shattenkirk and/or something worked out with a team like Winnipeg for a stud like Trouba.

Both their jobs, and the immediate health and well-being of a Bruins organization currently in distress, may very well depend on it.