Chris Bourque willing to take on any role with B's

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Chris Bourque willing to take on any role with B's

It was clearly a dream come true for Chris Bourque when he got the phone call from Peter Chiarelli that he was joining the Bruins organization.
He grew up north of Boston and his dad, Hall of Famer Ray Bourque, was one of the best to ever pull on the black and gold sweater, and those are just two of the zillion or so reasons why the Bruins were the perfect fit.
So while it was flattering to have the Bruins exchange first-round disappointment Zach Hamill to Washington for his rights prior to him becoming an unrestricted free agent, Bourque said the Bruins were going to be his top attraction if he made it into free agency after July 1.
They could have had me for free. I was going to be unrestricted and if they put up any kind of offer they were going to have the big edge with me being able to play in front of all my friends and family. It would have been intriguing to me no matter what, said Bourque, who scored the OT game-winner in the Beanpot in his one and only year at Boston University. I was looking forward to seeing who might be interested and Boston was always at the top of that list.
When they traded for me, I was just thrilled. I had a good talk with Mr. Chiarelli when I signed. He told me that I was going to have a good shot to make the NHL team. Theres a lot of history here between my family and the Bruins, obviously. I grew up idolizing Cam Neely, Adam Oates and my dadto get to see them up close at the rink every day as a kid was special. Now with what the Bruins have meant to the city over the last few years; it seems like it would be so much fun to be a part of.
Bourques willingness to do whatever it takes speaks to how badly he wants to carry on the family tradition on Causeway Street, and he may have to do just that while breaking through that NHL ceiling. The youngster watched as guys like Mathieu Perreault and Jay Beagle got their NHL chances in the Capitals organization, and Bourque is looking for that same thing in Boston.
Thats all Ive ever asked for. Its up to me to do the rest and bring some energy to the team. Im known as more of a playmaker, but Ill play any kind of role that they need me to, said Bourque. Whether its on the power play or the penalty kill Im just hoping they give me the chance to show I can do.
The 26-year-old Bourque might also be walking into a perfect fit with the Bruins at the NHL level: theres a third-line winger role up for grabs among 21-year-old Jordan Caron, fresh-faced rookies like Ryan Spooner and Jared Knight, and the eldest son in the Boston Bourque clan. The bottom-six forward role might not be the natural long-term spot for a 5-foot-8 skill player thats coming off a 27-goal, 93-point performance in the AHL for the Hershey Bears, but Bourque thinks that may be the best passageway into a permanent NHL spot.
Its reasonable to think given the proper chance he could match or surpass the 16 goals and 32 points produced by a hit-or-miss Benoit Pouliot in that role last season. Thats what it sounds as if Bourque has his sights set on.
Maybe starting off in the bottom-six would be the perfect way to ease into things. I like to bring a lot of energy to the game. Ill get in on the forecheck and Ill pitch in offensively when I can, said Bourque. Any role is fine, though. Id play defense or goalie if it gets me into the NHL with a full-time job. Thats the main goal.
It can be tough to tell because things havent translated for me from the AHL to the NHL. But hopefully the change of scenery helps me turn into the NHL player that I think I am know that Im going to be.
On the Bruins end of things, Chiarelli sees the offensive promise Bourque has shown at the AHL level and envisions him making the adjustment despite four points and a minus-6 in 33 games of sporadic actions for the Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. He also sees the third line possibilities that could make him a legit candidate for a checkingenergy role with some offensive upside skating alongside guys such as Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley.
He does have the ability to shoot to find seams, but he also has a great element to his game where that if he has to play lower down the line he can do that. I told him, among other things, that hell need like another quarter step to maintain it at this level, said Chiarelli. If he gets that and I think he will -- hes another guy whos relatively young, and that hell be able to play at this level on a regular basis.
I think hes got a good chance of making our team. I told him basically that hes just not here to go to Providence. Hes very keen about being a Bruin and Im happy to have him in the organization.
Now its little more than two months away from Bourque getting his big chance to play for the hockey club hes always dreamed about from the time he learned how to skate. Hes as ready as hes ever going to be to make the leap, and the Bruins are just as willing and ready to catch him.

Haggerty: Anticipate ‘great deal of player movement’

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Haggerty: Anticipate ‘great deal of player movement’

Ahead of the expansion draft, teams may look to get something in return for players they’d otherwise lose for nothing.

May 4, 2016: If expansion hits, which Pens goalie is protected?

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May 4, 2016: If expansion hits, which Pens goalie is protected?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while giving a warm May the Fourth Be With You to everybody out there.

*Mike Francesa has declared sports radio war on former New York Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro, and it’s getting ugly folks.

 

*A humbled Bruce Boudreau, who really didn’t need to be humbled given what a nice man he is, will have a long line of NHL suitors interested in his services.

 

*The Northeastern University hockey team has gone to some extremes with their pregame wrestling matches.

 

*Pro Hockey Talk asks the question: if there’s an expansion draft, which goaltender should the Penguins protect given what’s going on in their playoff series?

 

*A really nice gesture within the PHT morning skate with Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper going to bat for a Lightning beat reporter that finds himself out of a job.

 

*Max Domi had a very memorable rookie season even if it didn’t end with any serious consideration for the Calder Trophy.

 

*The Nashville Predators got a little better this week with the decision to kick Mike Ribeiro up into the press box.

 

*For something completely different: these Han Solo uniform jerseys for the Durham Bulls’ Star Wars Night are the freakin’ truth.

Bruins need leaders to follow

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Bruins need leaders to follow

This is the third 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. 

First things first: The leadership and general vibe around the Bruins dressing room was actually a little better last year than it was during a particularly listless 2014-15 season.

But the sometimes-motivational, sometimes-calming and sometimes-stern voices inside the room still couldn’t have been anywhere close to optimal levels as the Bruins went 3-8-1 in their final 12 games to once again finish a single point out of the playoffs. Even if the Bruin players haven’t technically quit on long-time coach Claude Julien, two straight late-season collapses make everybody wonder if the proper message and motivations are getting from the coaches to the leadership group and then on to the rank-and-file.

To lose so many games in regulation that late in the season is an indictment of the team's mental toughness. As is the disturbing tendency to shrink from the biggest challenges: The first three games of the season (an 0-3 record with a 7-16 goal differential). The Winter Classic (a 5-1 loss to the Canadiens). Milan Lucic's return to Boston (a 9-2 thrashing at the hands of Lucic's Kings). And that final, must-win game against Ottawa (a stunning 6-1 beatdown).

For whatever reason, it's seemed a lot more joyless around the Bruins on a daily basis in the last few years than it was back in their contending days, when big, bright personalities like Shawn Thornton, Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ference were around. It's not something easily manufactured, or replaced once you’ve lost it. Bringing in a veteran glue guy like Max Talbot obviously wasn’t enough.

It also something captain Zdeno Chara was still smarting about during Bruins break-up day a couple of weeks ago.

“Obviously if you don’t have the effort, you won’t have results," he said. "I can’t really tell you that the whole season’s been a disappointment. We’ve shown some positive stretches and things that we’ve done well, and we improved. But when times were [there] to fold up or respond, we always kind of find ourselves taking steps backwards. That was one of the things that was disappointing, and frustrating.

“I think that we are close, but close is not close enough. We’ve seen the last two years that we missed the playoffs by a point, two points. It’s just, I mean, we’re there, but obviously the commitment has got to be on a higher level. The execution has to be on a higher level, and that’s like I said, every individual has to be better in that area. Like we’re always saying, Game 1 and Game 82, they shouldn’t be different. Every game counts. Every point counts.”

Those disturbing trends had Julien looking inward for answers.

“What I did was a self-evaluation . . . " he said. "Do I still have the ear of the dressing room? Are they still hearing?"

And in the end, Julien -- who could easily have found another job (like with the Senators) had he left Boston -- feels he's up for the challenge.

"I don’t want to be that guy that bails just because all of a sudden you hit a bump in the road," he said. "I want to be that guys that perseveres. It’s okay to be remembered right now as the winningest coach in Bruins history" -- a plateau he reached during the season -- "but I’d rather be remembered for a guy who had enough character to go back to the trenches, dig his heels in and help turn this organization around.”

Those sentiments certainly send the right kind of stubborn, determined and positive message the Bruins need to hear. But it’s also going to take something different from the players.

Chara and Patrice Bergeron have led by example with feverish work ethics, and a daily approach that doesn’t leave any room for compromise from those with a different agenda. But neither is a rah-rah, emotional-touchstone player, someone who can easily break the tension when things start going south . . . as they did in the final month in each of the last two seasons. This is where a Thornton, a Boychuk or a Ference would have known the proper way to challenge a wayward teammate, to stand up and bear the brunt of a withering critical jab from Julien, or simply pick just the right time to crack a joke that would ease the tension. Or to know when it was vital to stand up for a teammate on the ice, and show the kind of backbone and feistiness that the Bruins have sorely lacked in the last two years.

These are little things to be sure, but they can turn into very big things if neglected. While the Bruins were choking on fumes in their dressing room in the season’s final 12 games, Thornton was in Florida with his Panthers teammates enjoying the “Kevin Spacey in Space” hooded sweatshirt phenomenon that people around the team say Thornton came up with midway through the season.  

Those kinds of little touches go a long way in building a winner, and making sure the weight of expectation never gets too heavy.

It simply feels like those expectations, combined with the serious erosion of talent/depth, have sucked some of the fun out of being a Bruin, and that really comes across at critical times during the season. It also feels like some players are simply straying from the system more than before, and not being pulled into the collective group as they might have been in the past.

Chris Kelly is the kind of player who can be instrumental in those areas, and certainly has the experience -- along with the respect of his teammates, and the willingness to say what needs to be said -- to be that kind of leader. There’s a reason Kelly was re-introduced as an important voice late in the season as he rehabbed from his broken leg, even though he wasn’t all that close to a return to the lineup.

Needless to say, Kelly’s presence is missed when he’s injured and away from the group for an extended period, like last season. That will be a consideration as the 35-year-old approaches free agency on July 1; he may have greater value to the Bruins than he would anywhere else around the NHL.

“From a . . . [team] glue standpoint, obviously . . . there was a void with Chris not being part of our locker room. Claude and I had a lot of talks about that," said general manager Don Sweeney. While admitting "Chris’ health is what we have to evaluate, first and foremost, as to when he can contribute on the ice to us", Sweeney hinted there may be more to the decision than that.

"Sometimes, those guys, it’s not necessarily the stat line always, but there’s some glue there that you do miss when he’s not [around]," said Sweeney. "[Kelly is] a little under-appreciated in that regard.”

Still, the Bruins need more than Kelly and the lead-by-example authority of Chara and Bergeron. Talent is always the most important deciding factor in the ultimate fate of a hockey club, but the simple fact is that the B's underachieved in each of the last two seasons with teams that should have made the playoffs.

That’s the ultimate warning sign that things aren’t as good as they could be, or should be, and need to be changed.