Haggerty: Bruins face tough road from here out

566488.jpg

Haggerty: Bruins face tough road from here out

BEDFORD, MA. The Bruinscrushed their cushy home schedule over the seasons first three months, they had their time offat home during the holidays and they took full advantage while rocketing back up to the top of the standings.

The Bruins are first in nearly every statistical category and have been embarrassing teams since the calendar turned to November. It's not often that a hockey team rips off a stretch where they go 20-2-1, so it's to be appreciated andduly noted.Theyre on a pace to match the franchises best season when they won 57 games during a 1970-71 campaign that featured the best that the Black and Gold have to offer during the regular season with the caveat that blockbuster B's bunchcame up short when it mattered most during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The most robust, optimistic Bs fans couldnt be blamedwondering if things can only get worse from here. The Bostonhockey clubhas put together some of their best hockey over a two-month stretch, and it's a long way down from the top. First a couple of admissions before bursting into full alert mode: its not a hot streak when it lasts two months as it has for the Bruins in November and December.The Bruins are among the NHL's best teams this year, and their roster depth, toughness, talent and Cup experience makes them a monster on most nights. But the B's prolific two-month performancealso begs a perfectlypessimistic question: how much better can things get between now and the playoffs.The quick and dirty answer would be "not much."

Injuries, suspensions, the natural fatigue of an 82-game hockey schedule, trades and the inflated egos borne out of great success could all gnaw away at the Bruins between now and the end of April. Thats a genuine New Englanders view of things when they appear to be going too well, but its also the approach the Bruins are taking in a roundabout way by dominating right now.

The Black and Gold banked as many points as possible leading into the Christmas holiday because theyve looked at the schedule, and the players know it wont be nearly as favorable in the second half of the year. They're a team built on lineup depth and they've shown good organizational depth with Zach Hamill's emergency performance in December, but that will be severely tested over the next three months.

It starts with a Western road trip through Phoenix and Dallas that begins Wednesday night, and the Bs players acknowledged the pros and cons of hitting the road as they prepared to board the team charter at Hanscom Air Field Tuesday morning.

Were a team that plays pretty well on the road historically and we like being on the road. It felt like we were at home for pretty much the entire month of October, so now were getting into the thick of it over the next few months, said Shawn Thornton. So its back to eat, sleep, play hockey and thats about it.

My whole time with Claude Julien hes been really good about days off. Maybe there have been a couple more this year, but weve been home a lot more this year and theres been an opportunity for it. Were probably going to have to find days here in the second half, but were all aware that we played until mid-June last seasonand rest is important.

The Bs have 48 games remaining in the regular season schedule, and 28 of those will be on the road with largeroad trip chunks inboth the months of January and March. Its something the Bs knew was coming when they played 13 of the first 17 at TD Garden to open their Stanley Cup defense along with a schedule givingfew days off once the Bruins hit Dallas for a New Years Eve tilt.NHL All-Star weekend in Ottawa looks to be the only real oasis for most of the players as they get into the grind of the campaign.

So the chances are legs will start getting heavy, shifts will get laborious,raw emotions will be more difficult to summonand the results wont necessarily be there once the dog days of the season hit the Bs. Couple itwith the overlap effect from last years Stanley Cup run, and Boston has a good test coming up if they want to remain at the top of the conference. The Cuphangover is most assuredly over, but it will be interesting to see just how much gas the Bs have in the tankduringthe latter moments of the regular season.

It looks like a pretty tough schedule coming up here. It looks like they tried to give us some time at the beginning of the year to recover and rest up as much as we could, said Brad Marchand. Were just going to have to rest up as much we can to prepare for whats coming ahead.

Theres little doubt the Bruins will be one of the best teams if things remain as theyve been over the last 60 days, but there will be some very real challenges facing this team in the coming months.

Health and good fortune were on their side last season, and its going to take some luck from the hockey gods for that to happen once again for the Bruins. Theyve been the best team in hockey over the last two months, and the challenge nowis to sustain that over thelong haul from now until the playoffs.

Miller 'blessed for the opportunity' to remain with Bruins

6snc20524161464129602343_3450k_1280x720_692161603908.jpg

Miller 'blessed for the opportunity' to remain with Bruins

To the surprise of pretty much nobody, Kevan Miller was ecstatic with the four year, $10 million contract extension handed to him by the Boston Bruins on Tuesday afternoon. The 28-year-old is a hard-hitting, big and strong defenseman in the Bruins mold, and has proven he can be a bottom-pairing defenseman in the NHL over the last three seasons of steady improvement.

So Miller was happy to keep things going with the Bruins and spend his prime years playing for the only NHL organization he’s known since signing as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Vermont.

“I’d like to start off by saying thank you to the Jacobs family, Cam Neely, Don Sweeney, and the rest of the Bruins organization. I’m truly blessed for this opportunity and I’m very thankful. I’d like to also say thank you to my family, my friends – they’ve all helped me get to this point,” said Miller, who would have been an unrestricted free agent on July 1. “Boston is a great city to play in, and we have the best fans in the NHL. I’m very thankful to them as well.

“I love playing here; it’s an honor to put that jersey on before every game. I feel my style of play fits in well here. I’m really looking forward to helping this [Bruins] team get back into the playoffs and reach our ultimate goal, and win a Stanley Cup.”

On the plus side of the ledger, Miller skated in a career-high 71 games last season and established career highs in goals (five), assists (13), points (18) and penalty minutes (53) while posting the second-best plus/minus rating on the team with a plus-15. Miller topped 19 minutes of ice time per game and played top pairing D-man minutes with Zdeno Chara for much of the season without another viable candidate able to step up into that spot.

On the minus side, Miller has had shoulder problems and concussion issues in his recent past while missing healthy portions of time in just about every season of his pro hockey career. He will be overpaid at $2.5 million per season if he turns into nothing more than a 5-6 defenseman for the Bruins, and it’s hard to imagine Miller ever truly flourishing as a top-4 defenseman given the body of work over the last two seasons.

Nevertheless, Miller hopes to keep improving at an NHL age (28) where you are pretty much a finished product on the ice.

“Everyone’s always trying to improve their game. As you can see, the NHL is changing every year, whether it gets faster here or there. But the game changes a lot and you have to be able to go along with that, and change your game in different ways,” said Miller. “I’m going to stay true to how I play, but I think there are areas where I can improve on, that I will improve on. I’m looking forward to it.”

Given the relatively rich contract that Miller will enjoy over the next four seasons, the Bruins are banking on the 6-foot-2, 210-pound defenseman improving as he goes in Boston as well. 

Bruins sign Kevan Miller to four-year, $10 million deal

felger_miller0523161464117692429_3450k_1280x720_691977283816.jpg

Bruins sign Kevan Miller to four-year, $10 million deal

BOSTON -- The Bruins locked up a piece to a blue line that was godawful last season in announcing they’d signed Kevan Miller to a four-year, $10 million contract.

They also retained one of their own young restricted free agents, center Seth Griffith, by reaching agreement on a one-year, two-way deal with an NHL value of $625,000 per season.

Miller, 28, played in a career-high 71 games last season -- his third with the Bruins -- and established career highs in goals (5), assists (13), points (18) and penalty minutes (53). He also posted the second-best plus/minus rating on the team (plus-15) and generally seemed to be playing his best hockey down the stretch.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Miller was also forced into playing 19:04 of ice time per night while oftentimes serving as a top-pair D-man alongside Zdeno Chara. That resulted in a high number of mistakes and turnovers at critical times against the opposition’s best offensive players.

The rugged, hardnosed Miller obviously isn’t going to be judged solely by the numbers. He's also evaluated by the big hits, blocked shots and air of intimidation in the defensive zone. That said, a four-year contract is a bit of a head-scratcher, given that Miller wasn’t expected to command that kind of deal as an unrestricted free agent on the open market.

That four-year deal, which carries a yearly cap hit of $2.5 million, would also seem to hint at the impending exodus of Adam McQuaid or Dennis Seidenberg, or both, given the number of limited stay-at-home defensemen on the roster now making decent NHL money.  

The bottom line: Miller’s contract will be a good one if he can settle into a steady, top-four role. But it will be another overpay if he winds up being the bottom-pairing D-man many see him as at the NHL level.

Griffith had 24 goals and 53 assists for 77 points in 57 games for the Providence Bruins last season, and also had an assist in four games for Boston. He'll get another chance this year to compete for one of the winger jobs at the NHL level with plenty of competition.